Gloriously profound interdisciplinary artist Kahil El’Zabar combines his gifts as a percussionist, bandleader, arranger and composer with mature musical mentorship to three Generation Next players delivered from Chicago’s renowned Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM ) on the Delmark release, What It Is!  Recorded during the last weekend of September in 2012, this hour long album presents listeners with a playful energy and steady musical awareness that embodies the AACM’s credo of “Great Black Music, Ancient to Future.” 

Pushing the boundaries the of the progressive soul jazz envelope, What It Is! sounds as contemporary as it does historic, synthesizing sonic elements from E-Funk to Avant Garde Jazz.

Each of the seven songs on this album debut of the six-year old band exemplifies El’Zabar’s ability to support and direct his three protégés.  Featuring his individual voice on the album’s title track, “What It Is!”, Kahil on African earth drum provides a sweet foundation for the quartet’s minimalist arrangement—one that effectively frames his testimony about the challenges of daily life.  Providing a surprising texture to affect the extraordinary solo stylings of bassist Junius Paul, one can hear a vocal panting akin to the frequently sampled pant heard in George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” in the rendition of John Coltrane’s “Central Park West.”  Listeners will also be delighted by the lovely “From the Heart,” featuring El’Zabar on the kalimba, the plucked idiophone of West and South African origins. 

Tenor saxophonist Kevin Nabors shimmers with intensity and the versatile Justin Dillard on piano, Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes lend What It Is! its soulful vibe.  As they traverse through modal post-bop, abstractions of free jazz, or ‘70s R&B/Soul, this quartet’s efforts are bold and grounded in the spirit of progression.  Laying the groundwork for future eclectic endeavors, What It Is! will certainly confirm your faith in the leadership of El’Zabar and leave you longing for the coming cultural productions of his protégés. 

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