Founded by veteran avant-garde jazz drummer Kahil El'Zabar, the Chicago-based JUBA Collective is an adventurous, chance-taking outfit that combines house, rap, jazz, and spoken word. JUBA gets its name from a West African dance and the group used the word juba to create an acronym: Joined Universal Breath Ascending. While there are some parallels between JUBA and similar dance/hip-hop/jazz groups like Us3 and JazzHole, El'Zabar's collective is more house-minded. A press release described JUBA as "Chicago jazz meets Chicago house"; however, JUBA is really more hip-house than jazz -- its material is essentially dance music with jazz overtones. Nonetheless, some of JUBA's members have strong jazz credentials -- including El'Zabar, guitarist Fareed Haque (who has recorded for Blue Note), saxman/pianist Ari Brown (born February 1, 1944), and pianist/organist Robert Irving III. El'Zabar has been making valuable contributions to Chicago's jazz scene since the '70s. Born in the Windy City on November 11, 1953, El'Zabar is a longtime member of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an organization that has boasted such avant-garde heavyweights as Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Jarman, and Lester Bowie. In Chicago jazz circles, El'Zabar is known for being a member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble since the '70s and for leading his own group, the Ritual Trio (which fellow AACM veteran Brown is a member of). But El'Zabar, who is comfortable in both inside and outside improvisation, is not a jazz snob and JUBA underscores his willingness to work with artists who don't specialize in hardcore jazz. JUBA's members not only include jazz instrumentalists, but also rappers or spoken word artists (who include Tamara Love, Susana Sandoval, and Primeridian). Another JUBA member is Frank Orrall, leader and founder of the folk-rock/worldbeat band Poi Dog Pondering. And with such a variety of people on board, JUBA brings a wide variety of influences to the table. The artists who have influenced JUBA in some way range from house icon Marshall Jefferson to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders to alternative rappers like De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Digable Planets, and A Tribe Called Quest. In the early 2000s, JUBA signed with the Chicago-based Premonition label. El'Zabar produced JUBA's self-titled debut album in 2001 and early 2002; Premonition released it in March 2002.
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