It’s probably not possible to give a brief overview of Kahil El’Zabar’s resumé—the Chicago jazz percussionist has been a crucial part of the city’s musical heritage since he joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians at age 18 in the early 1970s. (He also served the AACM as its chairman for a few years beginning in 1975.) He’s spent decades making high art that grips your body as well as your mind. His melodies swing between hypnotic and ecstatic, and I’ve often found myself bobbing to the rhythm of one of his spellbinding numbers without being able to recall the moment it cast its trancelike spell. El’Zabar attracts virtuosos too: on the new double LP A Time for Healing (Spiritmuse) he communes with gifted younger Chicagoans Justin Dillard (keys), Corey Wilkes (trumpet, bells), and Isaiah Collier (sax and other reeds). (Collier and his ensemble the Chosen Few issued an immersive spiritual-jazz album last May called Cosmic Transitions, and I suspect future generations will see it as influential.) El’Zabar handles the quartet’s vocals, and among his many percussion instruments is the kalimba, aka mbira or thumb piano, whose delicate tones provide a guiding light on the somber “We’ll Get Through This” and the sprightly “Urban Shaman.” On the humid “Drum Talk (Run’n in the Streets),” the pitter-pattering rhythms of El’Zabar’s hand percussion sashay around each other like a double helix—the state of hypnosis he sustains is a lot easier to feel than it is to describe.
Kahil El’Zabar’s A Time for Healing drops 2/4 and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.