Ethnic Heritage Ensemble Hot 'n' Heavy: Live at the Ascension Loft Delmark Records
The spirit of the loft is alive and well and more than safe in the hands of Mr. Kahil El' Zabar and his cohorts, and he reveals as much in the commentary track on this DVD. This line-up of his aptly named Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is supremely well-equipped to deliver a program of his deep music, deep in the sense of both knowing where it's coming from and where it's going, and the results are indeed both hot and heavy.
Nowhere is this sense of purpose better exemplified than on "MT," a piece dedicated to the late trumpeter and band leader Malachi Thompson that evokes the Blue Note spirits of the likes of Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley at the same time as it offers up a whole new slant on their approach to the form. Ernest "Khabeer" Dawkins in particular is right in the pocket on this one, coming on like an amalgam of Sonny Simmons and Cannonball Adderley whilst putting out his own solid musical identity. Ancient to the future, just like another group of musical Chicagoans proclaimed itself to be, fits this ensemble, especially when Corey Wilkes taps the energy in the room in his own profound way.
Delmark's production values guarantee fierce adherence to the music, and this act of faith brings forth an abundance of fruit on the title track, where the light but firm pulse laid down by El' Zabar and guitarist Fareed Haque propels high-flying solos from both Wilkes, who pays some kind of homage to Clark Terry in blowing both trumpet and flugelhorn simultaneously at one point, and Dawkins on alto sax, which is arguably his stronger horn, not least because it seems to emphasise both the rhythmically forceful and the lyrical aspects of his work.
In that respect he's right in keeping with the group as a whole, and the lyricism of Haque's acoustic guitar on "There Is A Place" brings the lesson home. The contemplative mood of the piece is in marked contrast to the title track while emphasizing a comparable depth.
The no-frills presentation on this disc serves not only the music and musicians but also the ambience of a loft well, even if the overall impression might discourage those few viewers insisting on concert-hall formality as a criterion of a music's inherent worth. It could just be that the simplicity and directness are a way of keeping the music real, apart from extraneous production values. Certainly the spare use of visual effects, other than the movements provided by the musicians at work and the audience responding, coerces the viewer to attend to the things that matter.
When it comes down to it, every DVD of this kind is an exercise in capturing a moment in time, and on this occasion everything cooperated to document how irresistibly vibrant and profoundly alive this music can be.
Tracks: Major to Minor; MT; Hot 'n' Heavy; There is a Place; Black as Vera Cruz.
Personnel: Kahil El'Zabar: earth drums, kalimba, drums, percussion, vocals; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet, percussion; Ernest "Khabeer Dawkins: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion; Fareed Haque: electric guitar, acoustic guitar.
Production Notes: 70 minutes. Recorded July 30, 2006 at Kahil El'Zabar's loft in Chicago, IL. Extras: extensive commentary by Kahil El'Zabar over a replay of the music; discography.