Music News & Reviews

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble returns to Lexington for Outside the Spotlight series

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Kahil El'Zabar, left, Corey Wilkes and Ernest Khabeer Dawkins.
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Kahil El'Zabar, left, Corey Wilkes and Ernest Khabeer Dawkins.

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

8 p.m. Feb. 11 at Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third St. Free. (859) 280-2232.

In the opening 12 minutes of its 2009 concert album, Mama's House Live, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble unravels a jazz fabric both fresh and familiar.

At work is a trio with novel instrumentation: two horns and percussion. Even with the many multipurpose and multigenerational jazz groups at work in EHE's hometown of Chicago, such a makeup is distinct. But it's not foreign. In fact, drums, tenor sax and trumpet are all that EHE has needed over the years — all 35 of them.

The album-opening excursion, Oof, lets the music move about slowly and confidently. Kalimba-like percussion sustains the tune, while the horns present a light, harmonious processional before splitting into two striking variations of the blues. The percussion stutters, knocks and soothes as it switches to wood blocks for chantlike punctuation. Then Oof steers back into thumb piano-flavored melodies that percolate in and out of the music and throughout the rest of the recording.

The common definition for this music is free jazz, and certainly the level of improvisational exchanges offered by the three players — founding percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, saxophonist Ernest Khabeer Dawkins and trumpeter Corey Wilkes — provides proper credence to the term.

But there are rhythmic traditions to the music as well — voices submerged in African and world-music inspirations that span many generations. They allow the Ethic Heritage Ensemble to live up to its name. There are voices from a more recent past at work as well.

Mama's House Live also finds the trio dressing up the Miles Davis Kind of Blue classic All Blues with properly reverent cool along with a melodic spaciousness that can come only from a band that works without a bass.

So what we have on the recording is a bit of jazz history in motion. That's only fitting, because El'Zabar is a keen part of that history. He joined Chicago's esteemed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1968 and became its chairman by 1975. A vanguard improviser and bandleader, El'Zabar also has performed and/or collaborated with a legion of stylistically diverse musical champions, including Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Simon, Nina Simone and Poi Dog Pondering.

The percussionist also has something of a longstanding relationship with Lexington, having played a duet concert with saxophonist David Murray for the Spotlight Jazz series in 1989 and an EHE performance at the University of Kentucky in 2003 that was one the initial entries in the Outside the Spotlight series of improvisational and free-jazz shows.

On Saturday, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and Outside the Spotlight team up again for their first performance at the renovated Lyric Theatre. The jazz will be as free as the admission. Be there.

Howdy, Gents

The Two Man Gentlemen Band is back in town this weekend. The New York duo of guitarist/vocalist Andy Bean and string bassist/vocalist Fuller Condon will celebrate the release of its sixth album, Dos Amigos, Una Fiesta, with a Saturday show at Al's Bar, 601 North Limestone. The band is a major hoot onstage, mixing a touch of swing, a dose of vaudeville and some seriously crazy performance energy all its own. Trim the Asylum Street Spankers down to a duo, take out the gospel references and you have an idea of where the Gentlemen operate from. Lexington's own vaudeville carnival, the Ford Theater Reunion, will open (9 p.m., $5). Call (859) 252-9104.

A Walk in the Park

And what has Linkin Park been up to lately? Well, the band that was at the forefront of a vibrant rap-and-rock movement at the turn of the millennium has undergone some stylistic shifts, internalized a lot of its musical angst and teamed with star producer Rick Rubin. That brought about a semi- concept album last fall, A Thousand Suns, that earned mixed reviews from fans and critics. Its songs downplayed guitar crunch in favor of music loaded with hip-hop, pop and electronica. So far, there is no planned Rupp Arena return for the band, but fans willing to embark on an end-of-weekend road trip can catch Linkin Park at Cincinnati's U.S. Bank Arena on Sunday, with Pendulum and Does It Offend You, Yeah? as opening acts. (7 p.m., $42.50-$72.50). For more info, call TicketMaster at 1-800-745-3000.

Jayhawking

What's this? A Mark Olson concert that isn't part of OktoberFest? Believe it. A founding member of the reunited Americana fave The Jayhawks, Olson has been a staple in recent years of Christ the King Oktoberfest, both as a solo artist and with Jayhawks pal Gary Louris. He was absent from the event last fall, but Olson will compensate Tuesday by taking to the great indoors for a change. He will showcase music from last year's album, Many Colored Kite, at Natasha's, 112 Esplanade (9 p.m., $10). Call (859) 259-2754. Olson discusses Many Colored Kite, his recent Jayhawks performances and the winter re-release of the band's seminal early-'90s albums in Sunday's Life + Arts section.

Out in the Rain

For much of the fall and winter, many of bluegrass music's most established acts have spent a Saturday night picking at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City. This weekend, though, homegrown string sounds take center stage. Performing Saturday will be Lexington's Driving Rain and McKee's Kirby Knob Boys. Call (606) 663-9008.

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