To say that Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (EHE), now in its 35th year, is an institution is technically correct. The sounds created, however, are anything but conservatively labeled as establishment."
The EHE has had many combinations, including the original 1973 lineup of Edward Wilkerson and Light Henry Huff. Later versions included trombonist Joseph Bowie, percussionist "Atu" Harold Murray and, more recently, guitarist Fareed Haque, who is featured EHE's previous CD/DVD Live At Ascension Loft (Delmark, 2007).
Recorded live in 2006 at Sangha in Takoma Park, Maryland, the EHE in this trio form includes longtime partner, saxophonist Ernest Khabeer Dawkins and the group's newest member, Corey Wilkes. Wilkes, also the substitute for Lester Bowie in Art Ensemble of Chicago, is a vibrant trumpeter with energy to spare.
The stripped-down nature of this music is both its strategy and its grandeur. El'Zabar can disrobe a composition like Miles Davis' "All Blues," revealing its African roots. At the bare minimum El'Zabar, with his thumb piano and ankle wrapped in cymbals, vocalizes a living history of this music as sophisticated as Miles' Brooks Brothers suit yet as ancient as the old continent this music has sprung from.
Throughout, the groove is both captivating and spellbinding. Add to that the talented soloists Wilkesand Dawkins. A leader of his own bandsincluding the New Horizons EnsembleDawkins exercises a dominion over his sound with the influences of Eric Dolphy and John Gilmore. As for Wilkes, his energy is self- evident, whether he is playing two trumpets at once or talking through a mute. And together the trio has the ability to amp up the energy at will.
The trio ends the disc with the sing-a-long version of "Ornette," which was first recorded on Dance With The Ancestors (Chameleon, 1993). After fifteen-plus minutes of music-making no one in the audience wants the show to end. Would it be too much to ask for 35 more years of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble?