These days percussionist Kahil El'Zabar has more than a full plate: the former president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians as well as a co-instigator of house music, he finds himself scoring films, touring and recording with saxist David Murray, teaching college, and serving on federal arts panels. But he always comes home--which in this case means not just Chicago but the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. For more than 15 years, the EHE has served as El'Zabar's base of musical operations, spurring and incorporating the major currents of his prolific activity. Among the most unusually instrumented groups in modern music--comprising percussion, Edward Wilkerson's saxophones, and the trombone of Joseph Bowie with nary a bass, piano, or guitar within earshot--the EHE remains a wonder of the musical world, paradoxically gaining artistic power by taking instruments out of the mix. Like some modern sonic spice trader, El'Zabar has established a direct route between ancient African ritual and 20th-century African American urban life, a route that the EHE travels with buoyancy, light, and long impassioned solos that escape both mainstream and avant-garde categorizations. Friday, 9:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.