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Live At the River East Art Center

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Album Review

The diminutive but mighty acoustic bassist Malachi Favors was a charter member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, and since his passing both groups have suffered. This recording for El'Zabar and his revamped trio including longtime member saxophonist Ari Brown and guest violinist Billy Bang is the first offering with bassist Yosef Ben Israel filling the chair of the late Favors. Because the unit was so reliant on the witty and unique elegance of Favors, not to mention his good humor, the band is at once somber and joyous, mourning his departure and celebrating his rich and wonderful artistic life. This live performance at the River East Art Center in Chicago sports a production value that also reflects the mood of the band — a bit detached and thin, but full of spirit, body, and true reverence for their great friend. The set starts with a typical ceremonial tribute, "Big M," a 4/4 instrumental with mbira lead lines and shakers from El'Zabar, tenor sax and violin eventually soloing after a nearly ten-minute intro. "Return of the Lost Tribe" acknowledges Israel's new role as he leads the quartet out in an easy-walking jazz swing, with El'Zabar on the drum kit, Brown's John Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders/David Murray-like tenor brimming with emotion and power, and Bang's signature off-minor, harmonic-drenched violin solo a highlight. El'Zabar then moves to the conga drums, and with Israel forms a base to build on during "Where Do You Want to Go?," with the distraught violin of Bang up-front in a team workout and the line of the title vocally repeated by the leader. Following a spoken statement about "real" life and living, losing friends, and perpetual fear-mongering reared by governmental administrations, "Oof" is a similar instrumental theme to "Big M," but at the end El'Zabar and Brown speak out about "Big Favors." You hear and feel their pain and sorrow, with the tenor and violin in more understated moods — slower, deep, heavy-hearted, and beautiful. The band would go into the studio two days later to produce an extended homage to Favors, feelings still fresh about the loss of a true giant in creative improvised music. Both CDs are good companions, well worth owning, and abundant in remembrances of the great man and musician, Malachi Favors. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi


Born: 20 September 1947 in Mobile, AL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Although he played an instrument more closely identified with uptown concert halls than downtown jazz clubs, there was no mistaking the primary source of Billy Bang's musical inspiration. While his violin technique was extensive and his familiarity with contemporary classical forms apparent, Bang's rough-edged, sometimes almost guttural tone, old-fashioned sense of swing, and lexicon of vocalic expressive devices defined him as a jazz musician. Bang improvised lines that might have been lifted straight...
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Live At the River East Art Center, Billy Bang
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