Sunday, August 19, 2007
Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra - Transmigration (Delmark, 2007) ***
If there is one musician about whom I can claim that I have all his recordings, then it's probably Kahil El'Zabar. I like his musical vision, the joy he expresses in the performance and the interplay, the beauty of his composition, the polyrhytmic feasts, the intimacy and directness of emotional and spiritual power, partly too the result of his playing in small ensembles, with five musicians at the most. But this is one is something else. The Infinity Orchestra is a big band from Bordeaux, where El'Zabar has been artist in residence for some years at the Academy of Music, and consists of young French musicians, ranging from pure jazz musicians to turntablists and hip-hop singers, with the addition of El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble musicians Ernest Dawkins on sax and Joe Bowie on trombone. The great thing about the album is also its weakness. The music is without a doubt El'Zabar's, and he adds his respect for each and every individual's musical style and competence and wants them to be made apparent. Like a teacher he tries to bring the best out of this band, and he really succeeds. Some of the musicians are absolutely excellent, such as the saxophonist on the first and third track, Arnaud Rouanet, who has a really great tone and expressive power, or the 15-year old clarinetist Jean Dousteyssier on the second. The downside of this approach is that you have a clash of genres at times, a democratic principle to showcase all musicians which is not always succesful, and because of the size and the orchestration much is lost of El'Zabar's usual light-footed approach and spur-of-the-moment creative changes. In any case, his objective was to demonstrate that music is a universal language tapping into the origins and styles from across the globe, like the members of this band. And although it's different in terms of form and orchestration from his usual work, the joy and the vision are still there, and the intimate directness is replaced by the power of a very coherent team. Great fun!