|Whatever happened to groove anyway? Maybe the recent crop of acid-jazz inspired artists are too slick by half for some, but, having seen Karl Denson in performance, I can tell you that his audience hardly cares what his reputation in the pages of DOWNBEAT is, or that he even has one. Like the great dub and funk and hip-hop artists, there are some world-class improvisers who understand pulse and what it means to live in the breakbeat, that time when the groove promises to shift out of its hypnotic intensity, but doesn't, not quite. Rather, it leaves you hanging, just for a moment, only to envelop you more utterly once it resumes.
To label Kahil El’Zabar a percussionist hardly does justice to his ability to create and sustain a groove, whether on a standard drum kit or—somewhat improbably—on his African hand drums. Although there are pieces both frenzied ("It Went Somewhere Else Now") and delicately reflective ("Internal Offerings") the real substance of this recording is to be found in pieces which I'm tempted to call harmolodic, so strong are the relationships between their melodies and rhythms. "Wide Open (Country Style)," a blues with a difference; "Dark Silhouette," a typically sinuous, slightly Asiatic Billy Bang ballad; the kewla-esque "Baby K (For Kaduvqwa)”; and the flat-out funky "Urban Bush People" are all simply great tunes, made all the more enjoyable by the deep bottom generated by Hamiet Bluiett on his baritone sax and the rapturous sawing of Bang's violin. In some ways there's nothing "new" or terrifically "complex" here—Bluiett has made music that resonates like this with both the World Saxophone Quartet and Chief Bey, and Bang and El’Zabar have a long history of performing together in various editions of the Ritual Trio (remember Another Kind of Groove? You should!)—but it hardly matters. This music's roots are so strong, and so obviously well-nurtured. Yes, this is powerful inside music and it welcomes you in. It is music for singing, dancing and basically throwing oneself into—head, heart, feet and rear end—with as much delight as the musicians themselves have taken in making it.