Ritual Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ritual Trio 

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Over the last four decades, jazz's version of the power trio--the tenor/bass/drums alliance pioneered by Sonny Rollins in 1957--has launched a thousand flights of freedom: the exclusion of piano opens up the group timbre, and it also helps cut the music loose from its traditional harmonic moorings. In his Ritual Trio, drummer Kahil EI'Zabar loosens things further, altering the percussion side of the triangle, which profoundly changes everything. El'Zabar concentrates on his favorite percussion instruments--the conga drums and various African thumb pianos--in providing a dancing, distinctly Africanized beat; even when he moves to the trap set, he maintains a relatively soft and spacious profile, and thus manages to expand even further the format's open-sky sound. The result is a trio of unusually quiet power. Its music occupies a plane between earth and air; the fire comes courtesy of the often overlooked saxophonist Ari Brown, whose trenchant tenor and sweet soprano make good use of their center-stage status. But the bond really revolves around bassist Malachi Favors, a stylistic descendant of Wilbur Ware (the bassist for that long-ago Sonny Rollins trio): his dark-toned melodies flow under the music like a subterranean stream. This performance doubles as the album-release party for the trio's stylish new CD, Renaissance of the Resistance (Delmark), an event this writer will emcee. Joining in the music will be the violinist Billy Bang, who fronted the original, saxless version of this trio--making this a Ritual celebration of past as well as present. Friday, 9 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.

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