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Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy--Live at the Ascension Loft

Jerry D'Souza By
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Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
Hot 'N' Heavy—Live at the Ascension Loft

The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has been a potent force in music and in particular on the constantly fermenting Chicago scene. The Ensemble revolves around leader Kahil El'Zabar, an articulate man who composes with an eye on the open horizon. Over the years the Ensemble has had some of the foremost improvisers in its fold, including Henry Huff, Joseph Bowie and Edward Wilkerson Jr. The current line-up with Ernest Dawkins, Corey Wilkes and Fareed Haque continues the tradition of creating music that is intense, sublime and intelligent. They, like those who have gone before them, bring to life the vivid testimony that is El'Zabar's music.

The creative energy of the quartet is evident right from the time El'Zabar gets his drums to sing their unique song on "Major to Minor, a tune incorporating melodic percussion and an imaginative tonal palette in its design. But Dawkins on saxophone marks his presence in the way he navigates a tune. He's in charge all along the way, establishing the path for the others, at the same time serving as a minstrel whose inventive stories illustrate his musical explorations. But trumpeter Wilkes is the one who ventures forth on this one, his stratospheric venting of the blues loosened at lightning speed. In lesser hands it would have been mere grandstanding, but with him it is art.

Black as Vera Cruz is reflective of the black presence in Mexico. The Ensemble plays with the melody, opening it, embellishing it and adding a warm sense of grace. Haque's guitar adorns the tune, as well as its structure, with his sense of harmony and improvisation. His chords and his own melodic lines are as much a delight to watch being created as to listen to. El'Zabar creates the tangent with his Afro-centric rhythm, filling the centre and acting as the cog for the cohesive dynamic of the Ensemble.

The commentary track and interview with El'Zabar is informative, revealing the man behind the music and the forces that drove him to create his music. The leader also talks about his drums and how he built them, and in one instance how he was gifted a thumb piano.

The Ethnic Heritage ensemble, quite simply, nails the viewer's attention.

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; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Ernest "Khabeer Dawkins: alto and tenor saxophones, percussion; Fareed Haque: electric and acoustic guitar

Production Notes: 67 minutes. Recorded July 30, 2006 at the Ascension Loft, Chicago. Extras: Commentary by Kahil El'Zabar; discography.

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