Feb 9, 2024

7:00 (doors), 7:30 (performance)

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble


In 1974, the celebrated percussionist and bandleader Dr. Kahil El’Zabar founded the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, a formation dedicated to fusing Black American musical vernacular, traditional African rhythm and instrumentation, and forward-thinking sonic motifs. Fifty years later, El’Zabar and his ever-evolving ensemble are still going strong, regularly serving up some of the most original, full-throttle, electrifying spiritual jazz across the United States and beyond. Alongside the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the group is one of just two remaining original projects nurtured by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM)—of which El’Zabar was chairman from 1975 to 1982—and thus represents a rich and critical cross-generational continuity for African American music. Across its storied history, the group has counted among its members the visionary tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, trombonist Joseph Bowie (brother of Lester), and a plethora of Chicagoan talent from Ernest Dawkins to Isaiah Collier

Sonically, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is known for its tight, trance-like rhythmic foundation, innovative harmonics and counterpoint, and deeply-honed group interplay. Their performances are heavy and transportative: pulsating drums and kalimba, blaring brass and sax, interlocking grooves, and El’Zabar’s animated and quasi-shamanic command of the stage all collide. As part of this special semicentennial celebration, the group will feature bandleader El’Zabar  on percussion and vocals, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Alex Harding on baritone sax, and James Sanders on violin, a musical corps d’elite whose members have accompanied and collaborated with the likes of Archie Shepp, Abdullah Ibrahim, Nina Simone, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Julius Hemphill, Stevie Wonder, and more. This show marks a return for El’Zabar, Wilkes, and Harding, who performed in trio at Blank Forms in May 2023