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


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

For more than thirty years, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has carried on the African-American tradition of percussive jazz from a distinctly Midwest-Chicago perspective. This live session, recorded in percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's loft, continues their long line of stellar recordings, but with a new and seemingly ever-changing lineup.

The EHE has included, among others, Edward Wilkerson, Jr., Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Bowie, Atu Harold Murray, and Light Henry Huff. Along with El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, it is one of the longest continuously working groups in jazz. The current lineup includes longstanding member Ernest Dawkins, plus recent-addition trumpeter Corey Wilkes and guitarist Fareed Haque.

The session opens with the earth drum of El'Zabar setting the pulse for "Major To Minor, a joyous 14- minute union of two horns, backed by Haque's rhythm accompaniment. Corey Wilkes, a fast rising star and member of the new Art Ensemble of Chicago, works a conventional solo in a unconventional manner with some slick electronic effects. As with his work in AEC, his fresh take (and young years) are a signal that the music will be carried on by a younger generation.

The swinging "MT, a title referring to the late bassist Malachi Thompson, shares his "free-bop" attitude with the exotic spice of El' Zabar's kalimba thumb piano. The latter switches to a regular drum kit on the title track as the horns are allowed to move "farther out," joined by what is always a trademark of an EHE sound, that ever-present, energizing rhythm. While El'Zabar can bring the thunder, his sense of time (or is it place?) is grounded. Wilkes puts two horns to his lips and the stoic Dawkins plays as if within a trance-induced state, constructing a solo of speed and illumination.

The thoughtful, "There Is A Place slows things down, as the kalimba paired with Fareed Haque's acoustic guitar sets up Wilkes' slow, drawn-out trumpet effects, before Haque twists some additional effects out of his guitar by altering its sound with various objects. Not to worry, the rhythm remains, and Kahil repeats the question, "can you find a place where there's peace and happiness?

The disc ends with the South-American melodies and rhythms of "Black As Vera Cruz, which inspires multiple percussive contributions on the parts of all. After over an hour of music, your ears are demanding more.

An additional compelling feature of the DVD, with its visual aspect, is the physicality and sheer musical athleticism Kahil El'Zabar brings to the sound. His various percussion objects are conspicuously displayed, and he is seemingly in constant motion. He even plays bells attached to his ankle while drumming.

Shot during this live session at El'Zabar's loft, the bumpy camera work actually complements the live action nicely. These Delmark DVDs have a rough edge to them that, while potentially turning off special effects fans, are a treasure to the follower of authentic jazz. The low-budget "feel" to the production means you get the same experience as the person sitting in the audience while the music (not the visual element) remains the focus.

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. Stereo, Dolby Surround, and DTS surround. Additional features include a short discography and a running commentary by Kahil El'Zabar that provides a history of his music and that of Chicago's AACM.

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