|Recorded in Chicago -- the original home turf for all three of these cats -- the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's 21st Century Union March furthers their reputation, after the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as hauling together the many different aspects of African and African American music, both traditional and popular, and bringing them together in a way that is truly edifying to the listener.
Drummer/percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, saxophonist Ed Wilkerson, and trombonist Joe Bowie have created an infectious, utterly intoxicating brew of African folk songs (complete with ritual instruments), rhythm marches, R&B honking, bop caesuras, and blues stomping that is inseparable from tradition yet extends its relevancy into a new era. Often these music forms -- in fact almost always -- are combined within the same tune. So on "Crumb Puck Let You Slide," the slippery blues and R&B feel is entwined with a New Orleans-style march, a modal folk song sensibility, and a series of funk backbeats to make something otherworldly slither up the street and bend corners with the fellas. Joe Bowie's trombone solo is lean, manly, and muscular. At times he feels almost like a drummer playing accents on his own lines, dovetailing El'Zabar's drums.
Elsewhere on "Burundi" the sound of night and the country comes through on Wilkerson's high-register solo in counterpoint to El'Zabar's shifting polyrhythms as Bowie lends percussive support. Here too, though, one can hear Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins singing sweetly in the foreground through an Eastern mode. On "Dear Albert," the band plays a march with triple-timed hand-drum percussion. And given that its inspiration is Ayler, this couldn't be a more fitting tribute, as a South African folk song is layered with free jazz in a way that is intimate and universally communicative. It has the same heart and repetitive melodic style of an Ayler composition, one that attempts to create a universality in both rhythm and tone; when the vocal chants come in and Wilkerson starts to play a mournful blues on his horn, the picture is complete.
The EHE have exceeded their expectations this time and have given us a memorable recording. Why didn't Delmark release this in the States?