Ethnic Heritage Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

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When Kahil El-Zabar started this trio in the mid-70s it comprised conga drums and two tenor saxophones, which is not what most people think of when they imagine a "band." Since then, the instrumentation has diversified--the trio now includes Joseph Bowie on trombone as well as Edward Wilkerson on saxes, while El-Zabar plays trap set as well as the more exotic drums--and the range and depth of the EHE's music continues to surprise. If you don't miss the sounds of bass or piano, it's because El-Zabar and company create music so complete in itself, you're more likely to wonder where such timbral additions (necessary as they might seem) could possibly fit in. The EHE accomplishes this alchemy by refusing to remain within the roles suggested by their instruments, by drawing on traditions as old as New Orleans Dixieland and as young as Chicago house music, and by rooting their most far-flung improvisations in the most universal elements of folk music. The last time I saw them, at a small, overcrowded performance space, the lighting was poor, the acoustics only marginal--and there were whole chunks of time when nothing mattered, either in or outside that room, besides the music. That's the highest praise I know. Saturday, 9 PM, Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield; 281-0824.

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