Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has been one of the flagship ensembles of the AACM since the mid -1970s, when the band emerged from the Chicago creative music organization. Since 2000, when Kahil El’Zabar first brought his trio into the Bop Shop, we have been treated to various editions of the band. That first time, the EHE featured reedman Ernest Khabeer Dawkins and trombonist Joseph Bowie. Over the years the personnel has morphed but the trio has always had interesting permutations including the addition of young, dynamic trumpeter Corey Wilkes. In the spring of 2016, he brought an unusual variation into the Lovin’ Cup with trombonist Craig Harris and baritone sax master Hamiet Blueitt. El’Zabar has also appeared at the Bop Shop in duet and trio formats with violinist Billy Bang and saxophonist David Murray.
So we eagerly await to hear what El’Zabar has in store for us this time. Corey Wilkes is back in the lineup and his accomplished blend of the tradition, contemporary music and the future are always to the fore. The real surprise this time around is baritone saxophonist Alex Harding. Emerging in the mid-1990s, he played in the bands of Julius Hemphill, ex-Sun Ra trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah and the baritone sax quartet of Hamiet Blueitt. He also has released his own recordings on CIMP, recordings with Romanian pianist Lucian Ban (who played at the Bop Shop this past fall) in various configurations. Reviewers have commented not only on his bluesy, from-the-church sound but also on his ability to “let his gorgeous tone hang clearly in the air like a puff of rich cream.” It will be interesting to hear what he brings to the EHE.
But with whoever is in the band at any given time, with the guidance of Kahil El’ Zabar, one is assured that the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble will be delivering on the AACM’s dictum: Great Black Music: Ancient To The Future.
Kahil El’Zabar: www.allmusic.com/aritst/kahil-elzabar