Hot 'n' Heavy: Live at the Ascension Loft

Jim Santella BY

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Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
Hot 'n' Heavy: Live at the Ascension Loft
Delmark Records

The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble delivers pure jazz with spirit. In this live concert, they interpret five of Kahil El'Zabar's compositions with an emphasis on the teamwork that exists between two horns, Fareed Haque's guitar, and El'Zabar's large hand drums. From their collaboration, you can feel the spirit moving through the room as a selected audience looks on. Band members chant and move freely with the knowledge that their performance comes from within. It's a soulful affair.

MT, a dedication to trumpeter Malachi Thompson, who passed away last year on July 16th just two weeks before this concert, is a deeply felt eulogy and fitting tribute. It's also an opportunity to see and hear the mesmerizing effect that a kalimba can have on musicians and listeners both. The quartet gets down with this one, featuring heartfelt soloing and a dramatic, stirring spate of circular breathing by trumpeter Corey Wilkes. A brief video shot of Thompson is appended to the film at the close of the number.

El'Zabar switches to drum set for "Hot 'n' Heavy, which finds Wilkes playing trumpet and flugelhorn at the same time. The band goes outside the main current on this one, taking jazz's modern mainstream through some swift and deep channels. Their conventional format, offering a head and closing melody with unison horns, works in their favor because the rhythmic constituent is so powerful. El'Zabar returns to kalimba for "There is a Place, which features Haque on acoustic guitar in the classical tradition. It's a somber ballad with lyrics by El'Zabar, transfixing the room with a soothing spiritual energy.

The band closes with "Black as Vera Cruz, a Latin piece with universal appeal and featuring Ernest Dawkins' emotional tenor. This, the climactic high point of their program, takes the quartet on a 15-minute diverse musical journey to nations from all around the world. Trumpet, hand drums, electric guitar and saxophone unleash a melodic-rhythmic force that irresistibly lifts the spirits of all who join them on the trip.

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.

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