Dogma can easily nip a jazz musician's creativity in the bud. When an improviser insists that only one style of jazz is valid, it is as frustrating as listening to someone espouse religious dogma. Like the Christian fundamentalist who refuses to believe that there is anything good about Hinduism, Judaism, or Islam; or the equally oppressive Islamic fundamentalist who wants to see all other religions outlawed. Truth be told, there is something to be learned from all the world's major religions, and similarly, there is no "correct" way to play jazz. Everything from Dixieland to free jazz to fusion has its place. Thankfully, drummer Kahil El'Zabar hasn't let musical dogma get in the way of his Ritual Trio, which has been open to a variety of possibilities. And because El'Zabar is as flexible and broad-minded as he is, Ritual Trio avoided becoming predictable in the 1990s. Recorded live in Chicago in 1994, Big Cliff unites Ritual Trio members El'Zabar, Ari Brown (tenor sax and piano), and Malachi Favors (upright bass) with violinist Billy Bang. The musicians' diverse set reflects their interest in both inside and outside playing. While "Another Kind of Groove" is funky and groove-minded, "Big Cliff" is an abstract, dissonant free jazz number. But the ballad "For the Love of My Father" is melodic and peaceful, and the hypnotic "Blue Rwanda" (which lasts 21 minutes) underscores El'Zabar's interest in African music. Big Cliff is a CD that El'Zabar and his colleagues can easily be proud of.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson