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

Mark F. Turner By

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

Delmark Records continues to produce some memorable jazz DVDs and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's Hot'N'Heavy—Live at the Ascension Loft is no exception. From the first few sounds and frames of the video, one dynamic image absorbs the viewer: the group's leader, percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, has more energy in his fingertips than most of us have in our entire bodies.

This live recording of the EHE quartet captured in Chicago at the Ascension Loft (a community of artists and musicians) features, besides El'Zabar, trumpeter Corey Wilkes, saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, and guitarist Fareed Haque. Electricity pours out from the band to the sparse and appreciative audience, and is captured vividly onto video. In fact, visually the musicians are in striking contrast to a stereotypical jazz band (cool personae, suits, and darkly lit bandstands). The EHE players are sweating and playing their (body parts) off, in a hot and humid loft (El'Zabar jokes about it his commentary), giving it all they have. It's a treat to witness music that is passionate—performed, moreover, with an unflinching spirit.

El'Zabar's thunderous earth drum proves that no stringed bass instrument is needed as the drum's booming is the heartbeat of the African rhythmic groove heard on "Major to Minor. The rhythm of the percussion is accentuated by a funky guitar riff and developed in synth-trumpet solo by Wilkes before it culminates with El'Zabar literally turning up the heat with a fiery earth drum solo accompanied by guttural chants both indigenous and foreign.

Next is "MT," a movingly soulful number dedicated to the late esteemed trumpeter Malachi Thompson. This piece, like the others, contains a heartbeat that is carried by a single percussion instrument's chord. In this case the pulse is carried by El'Zabar's thumb piano pattern, as musicians add to its life with solos (notice the superimposed video footage of Thompson soloing along with Wilkes).

Getting the chance to witness these musicians make music together is fun, but individual moments also stand out, such as Wilkes playing two horns at once (Rahsaan Roland Kirk style) on the smoking piece "Hot 'N' heavy, which also features El'Zabar on a standard kit and Dawkins delivering a tense and abstract sax solo. Haque's muted, then openly projected classical guitar playing is mesmerizing on the peaceful, trance- inducing "There is a Place. The performance comes full circle as El'Zabar's hypnotic earth drum provides a dark and haunting curtain with the Afro-Latin rhythm of "Black as Vera Cruz.

The sound is excellent with a variety of Surround Sound options. The video is good with a minor quibble about excessive artistic liberties (montage images of the musicians and splashes of color) in some sections. But by no means does this small detail detract from a highly rewarding experience.

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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