Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Impressions

Henry "Light" Huff, Ed Wilkerson and Kahil El’Zabar's mixture of contemporary classical, jazz and world flavours is reissued on CD and vinyl

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Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar founded the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in 1973, the group recording Impressions, their second album, for Red Records in 1981. As with all their albums, the music they create here defies simple characterisation.

The opening first part of Impressions, for example, a descending woodwind theme that echoes the opening bars of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring, contrasts strongly with the sonorous harp (or it could be an African thumb piano) of the second part. In the kaleidoscope of sonorities that follow, percussion is a constant element, as are space and silence, the three musicians negotiating around each other with care and respect.

While most of the seven parts of this suite are reverential in tone, the third quickly erupts into an atonal saxophone frenzy before the harp gently introduces the fourth part accompanied by a deep-voiced woodwind instrument and then a flute to reset the mood. Likewise, the strident theme of the sixth part interrupts with force.

There might only be three musicians here, but their sound world is expansive and all embracing, their vision wide open to every sonic possibility. It’s good to have this much sought-after album, available on CD and LP, back in circulation once again on its original label. Of the Ensemble’s 16 albums, this is one of the best.

Discography
Impressions Parts 1–7 (44.36)
Henry “Light” Huff (ss, hp, pc); Ed Wilkerson (ts, ww, p); Kahil El’Zabar (d, pc). Bologna, Italy, 1981.
Red Records RR 123156-2