Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – Hot and Heavy: Live at the Ascension Loft DVD (Delmark, 2007)

Reminiscent of the great loft jazz performances held in New York in the 1970's, this video of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble was recorded at percussionist and band leader Kahil El'Zabar's own loft apartment. Joining him in the current version of the EHE are trumpeter Corey Wilkes, a very promising young musician who has also been playing and recording with the reconstituted Art Ensemble of Chicago. Ernest Dawkins plays tenor and alto saxophones, Fareed Haque rounds out the band on guitar. Bubbling percussion and brightly chorded guitar give the music interesting color on the opening “Major to Minor”. “MT” dedicated to Malachai Thompson has a meditative feel with thumb piano and percussion setting the groove, and round-robin solos for tenor saxophone, trumpet and guitar providing the heat. “Hot and Heavy” has Corey Wilkes channeling Rahsaan Roland Kirk by playing trumpet and flugelhorn simultaneously, with one in each hand! This is followed by a nice bluesy alto sax solo, digging deep and really sounding good. "There is a Place" has a slow and contemplative feel to it, with Wilkes taking a muted solo while El'Zabar chants for peace and love, before Haque takes an intricate acoustic guitar solo. "Black as Vera Cruz" has Dawkins soloing strongly over El'Zabar's hand percussion and chanting. Haque chips in a fine electric guitar solo, with the rest of the group picking up percussion instruments to add to the tumult. There's a good liner essay with comments from El'Zabar on the band, and a commentary track with El'Zabar talking about the music and adding some very interesting thoughts about the philosophy behind it. The only complaint I have with the film is with the superimposition of two camera angles, a technique used quite a bit – one on the band and another constantly moving across artwork or distorted images of the group, which gives the visual presence a vertigo inducing quality that distracted from the power of the music. There's some wonderfully loose AACM inspired playing to be found here, indeed the music is first rate, so if you can take some Dramamine and handle the visuals, this is a very worthwhile set.

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