Almost a dozen years ago, when drummer Kahil El’Zabar sought a name for his drums-bass-horn trio, he looked to the folk musicians of Africa for inspiration, placing his art in the context of ritual: an activity that, through repetition and expectation, helps to shape experience. Indeed, El’Zabar’s audiences have come to expect a great deal from this band, which repeatedly galvanizes its listeners through its remarkable chemistry. El’Zabar takes the “power trio” format and gives it a subtle twist by replacing the usual hard-driving drums with a wider-ranging battery of percussion; the resultant music has a spacious but unusually quiet power. El’Zabar and bassist Malachi Favors–whose dark, dry sound girdled the music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago for three decades–provide an earthy rhythmic cushion, punctuated by El’Zabar’s African thumb pianos and sweet-soul-preacher vocals; saxophonist Ari Brown supplies the fire with his brawny tenor, pungent soprano, and intrepid lyricism. Together they zoom from street-smart grooves to a startlingly naked emotionalism, and then to the Afrocentric modernism that characterizes all of El’Zabar’s varied creative projects. A master percussionist and exceptionally musical showman, El’Zabar has become one of the best-known Chicago musicians beyond the city limits, but he plays rarely in his home town. This marks only his second appearance here this year, which has something to do with being a prophet in one’s own land–and even more to do with collecting profits in one’s own land. In other words, catch him when you can. Saturday, 8 PM, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo of one of trio by Marc PoKempner.