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Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Cat. No.: SHCD150

Joseph Bowie  trombone, conga, drums, djembe, miscellaneous percussion
Ernest Dawkins  soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute, miscellaneous percussion
Kahil El'Zabar  earth drums, sanza, trap drums, miscellaneous percussion
Atu Harold Murray  earth drums, flutes, dun-dun drum

Track Listing:
1. Great Black Music (Kahil El'Zabar) 11:31
2. Sweet Meat (Kahil El'Zabar) 5:48
3. Ka-Real (Joseph Bowie) 7:46
4. Hang Tough (Kahil El'Zabar) 9:39
5. Kampfumo Shuffle (Ernest Dawkins) 9:12
6. The Christening (Kahil El'Zabar) 7:30
7. Jam for the Babas (Atu Harold Murray) 10:34

Total time: 62:21
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Recorded nine months after Ernest Dawkins replaced Edward Wilkerson as featured reed artist, this session was recorded in fine sound at Delmark Studio in Chicago. The sound of the group has changed and developed somewhat, but the Ethnics still produce their own special kind of excitement when they perform. Previous Ethnic Heritage Ensemble CDs were Silkheart 108 and 142, this latest addition continues a worthy tradition.

"The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's music will not only get under one's skin, it will seep deeply inside one's soul."
Frank Rubolino, One Final Note, May 2002
Liner Notes

The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble are minimalists. But their slow-burning mix of cycling African rhythms, somnambulistic patience, restrained intensity, and whispery near-silence is a strain of minimalism they invented. As leader/visionary Kahil El'Zabar says, "People are just starting to really understand what we're doing. Earlier, people talked about the music as some kind of primitive groove. They didn't understand the rhythmic complexities, the confluences, and how the harmonies that we write make it sound much bigger than it really is.
Now there are many people attempting to stretch the possibilities within a minimalist approach. We've been doing it for over 20 years." The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's music builds complexity from simplicity, diversifies through repetition, transcends time by emphasizing it. Their laser-like ability to set the rhythm button on infinite repeat creates a hypnosis similar to the mind-buzz of classical minimalists like Steve Reich and Terry Riley. The best example on Ka-Real is "Kampfumo Shuffle," a brain-altering loop whose multi-layered density seems impossible given the one-eyed persistence of the never-abandoned beat. Or check out a live El'Zabar earthdrum solo, wherein his total mental and physical unification with the rhythm parallels Riley's cross-legged all-night flights.
The eternal beat of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is more than percussive. Each band member is always playing rhythm, whether by losing hands in a blur of conga slapping or trap-kit punching, rattling out an accompaniment on the band's endless collection of sound-making implements, or weaving a solo through the drumbeat like a snake exploring a skeleton. As El'Zabar says, "A lot of melodic players just glisten over structures set by the rhythm section, rather than being an intricate part of those structures, at the same time as expressing ideas harmonically and melodically. Everyone in our group is really cognizant of the rhythmic structures, and they each have the ability to appropriate it, and to transmute it." The patience on Ka-Real is superhuman. Nothing happens quickly. Each solo is calmly and devoutly built, each climax forms naturally from a long, meditative ascent, and slowly slides back. Less becomes more so gradually that the two are indistinguishable. As El'Zabar says, "We can go from an small kind of whisper, to an intense high-volume level easily. Using African drums, a trombone, and a saxophone could sound like one gurgle. But because of the skill each of us brings to our instruments, it doesn't sound muddled."
This is the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's third record with its current lineup, and you can smell the momentum smoking out of the speakers. El'Zabar and Murray play a deep rhythm, a bottomless beat-well whose endless patterns and timbres reverberate around each other like frogs hopping into each other's mouths. Bowie and Dawkins flip every sound inside out, turning each note over until it divides into an outer shell and inner core, then melts back together. Bowie's pointed, rapid-fire sound-grenades are pyrotechnic. Dawkins' helium-infused flights into the upper register lift skyward so incrementally it feels like it's the earth and not his sound that's moving.
One could spend years mapping the high points on Ka-Real: El'Zabar's bone-melting thumb piano cycle on "Great Black Music"; Dawkins' stunning lung-muscle solo on "Hang Tough"; Bowie's machine-gun note-flares on "The Christening". Each song is like an album of its own, but the disc's best mini-environment is "Ka-Real," a drifting, cloudy globe of hidden, ghostly sound. Joe Bowie's composition floats above the other tunes, haunting the album like a shapeless spectre. "I wanted to create the traditional ballad feel, but with the freedom rhythmically to flow around that feel," says Bowie. "Like a ballad with an aura of fog around it, which gives it room to just go anywhere."
The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's patient devotion to timeless motion blurs past, present, and future. This band has happened, is happening, will happen - all at exactly the same time. "The future of the group happened years ago," El'Zabar says. "We're in this information period where shit is thrown real quick, a lot of us miss it. But those of us who take our time, think about it, and feel it, we're going to come out with some useful stuff."

Marc Masters
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