Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Following the release of their most recent album ‘SPIRIT GATHERER • Tribute to Don Cherry in 2023 via Spiritmuse Records. The legendary Chicago multi-percussionist and composer Sir Kahil El’Zabar, celebrates 50 years of The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s legacy and unwavering contribution to Great Black Music,

EHE was formed in 1974 shortly after Sir Kahil El’Zabar graduated from Lake Forest College, with the goal “To combine concepts of African American music with its earlier roots in traditional African music, to produce new motifs and sounds true to their origins yet firmly pointed in a new artistic direction ”of enlightenment and deep listening”. Half a century later and the rich, compelling, ever-evolving sound they are known for, is still going strong. Together with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is one of the two remaining original groups active in the world today that were nurtured in the AACM( Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). 

[ “I knew in my heart, that this band Would endure. My concept was based in logic as it pertains to the history of Great Black Music. In other words, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has a strong rhythmic foundation, innovative harmonics and counterpoint, well-balanced interplay and polyphony among the players for highly developed ensemble dynamics. We are strong individual soloists with an in-depth grasp of music history, originality, fearlessness and deep spirituality.” ]


Alongside multi-faceted El’Zabar, the EHE’s current line-up includes Corey Wilkes on trumpet, who has worked with numerous jazz masters, including Wynton Marsalis, Kurt Elling, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Harding on baritone sax, who has performed with Dollar Brand, Julius Hemphill Sun Ra, and Fela The Musical. These three sonic scientists whip up an electrifying mix of spiritual jazz with afro-inspired rhythms built around fundamental brass improvisations and a swing-induced groove. The resulting trance-like fervor, transports one into a mind opening journey of spiritually enlightened deep listening.

Their 2019 release Be Known: Ancient/Future/Music (Spiritmuse Records), was a great success both critically and with fans, selling out in all formats. This was followed by the phenomenal 2023 release of ‘Spirit Gatherer – Tribute to The Great Don Cherry’, (Spiritmuse Records), featuring acclaimed vocalist Dwight Trible and the late eldest son of Don Cherry, David Ornette Cherry, who unfortunately passed away before the release of this paramount recording, right after the historic Ethnic Heritage Ensemble live performance with Kahil El”Zabar and members of the Cherry family.  

Building on half a century of this iconic band’s work, for this anniversary project, Kahil intends to keep looking forward in terms of a contemporary approach to authenticity in concept, music, arrangements, and performance. Corey Wilkes, Alex Harding, and special guests, James Sauders, and Ishmael Ali, are exemplary players, as well as being extraordinary improvisers! It is a new EHE sound with strings that combines the history of our music to a contemporary approach to arrangements, performance, and ensemble interplay, that speaks to the now and beyond.


Corey Wilkes

Trumpeter Corey Wilkes’ impact on the Chicago music scene is near boundless. Having grown up immersed in the sounds of blues, soul, jazz, funk and R&B, he took up the trumpet at the age of 10, and immediately flourished as a performer. His confidence and talent soon took him to Berklee College of Music and the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, to immerse himself in the city’s rich musical cultures. Upon returning to his native city, Chicago, his profile rose rapidly in jazz society. He became an Artist in Residence for the Jazz Institute of Chicago, and a member of the AACM. For years he’s developed under Kahil El’Zabar’s wing in the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and has played on stage and recorded with greats such as Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, James Moody, Kurt Elling, Greg Osby, Nicole Mitchell, Marcus Belgrave, Clark Terry, Evan Parker, IG Culture, Tortoise and Bonnie Prince Billy and Makaya McCraven All the while playing with the Art Ensemble of Chicago filling the incredibly large shoes of the late Lester Bowie.

Corey Wilkes has been with Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble for over 15 years now, and can be heard on the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s phenomenal “Be Known: Ancient / Future / Music” LP and ‘Spirit Gatherer, Tribute to Don Cherry’ on Spiritmuse Records and on Junius Paul Quartet’s acclaimed “Ism”. As nearly a two-decade member of Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, it was natural that Corey would be tapped to be part of Kahil E’lZabar’s Quartet releasing a seminal album in Feb of 2022 with “A Time for Healing” on Spiritmuse.  

Featured extensively by NPR, Downbeat & Jazz Times, the New York Times described Wilkes’s playing style as “smartly balanced bravado, power, and control” all while being one of the very few trumpeters able to practice circular breathing while playing – an impressive feat! 

Corey Wilkes’ collaborations extend beyond the world of music, as he has also worked with visual artists such as Theaster Gates, Nick Cave, Lucy Slivinski and Rashid Johnson, creating multi-disciplinary performances that blend music, art, and culture. He has also made a name for himself as an actor, appearing in the hit TV show Empire for six seasons, receiving critical acclaim for his performances.  

Wilkes continues to push the boundaries of jazz and expand its reach to new audiences with his EHE performances, while remaining true to his roots and his commitment to excellence in all aspects of his work.



Alex Harding

Born in Detroit and studied music in his early years with Yusef Lateef, Beans Bows and Herbie Williams, Alex Harding had a chance to play with Wynton Marsalis and Donald Byrd while still in high school. After graduation Alex receive music scholarships to University of Massachusetts and the Aspen School of Music setting up his first European engagement in 1990 to perform Porgy and Bess, travelling to Mexico a year later for the Arts and Music Festival with percussionist Francisco Mora. 

After settling in New York in 1993 and a stint touring with Haitian group, Phatoms, Alex joined Julius Hemphill’s Saxophone Sextet. Simultaneously performing with Muhal Richard Abrams, Craig Harris, Lester Bowie, Frank Lacy, Oliver Lake and David Murray’s Big Band. Alex joined Hamiet Bluiett’s Baritone Group in 1996, appearing with the Mingus Big Band, Jayne Cortez Firespitters and Lester Bowie’s Hip-Hop Philharmonic the same year. During that period he also recorded with Greg Osby, Frank Lowe, David Lee Roth and Rodney Whittaker. The following year, Alex recorded At Doctor King’s Table with the Julius Hemphill Sextet, a CD with Hamiet Bluiett’s Baritone Group, and made his debut with the Sun Ra Arkestra under Marshall Allen’s leadership. By 1998 Alex was part of the Sun Ra All-Star Project, premiering at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival sharing stages with the late Roy Hargrove Big Band and Aretha Franklin. 

Critics have hailed him as “the new voice on baritone saxophone, the carrier of the great legacy of Harry Carney, Pepper Adams and Hamiet Bluiett”. Alex Harding has released several albums as a bandleader garnering glowing reviews while also appearing as a guest on more than 40 other albums. The October ’97 issue of Jazz Times review of Hamiet Bluiett’s Baritone Band stated “Alex Harding attacked the music with steamroller momentum and uncommon ferocity…it was sheer fireworks”. 

A powerful and innovative saxophonist, Alex Harding has a unique and contemporary baritone sound, and has been a core member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble for the last 6 years. The sincerity of his musical expression and the dynamism of his performances with the EHE reach out and touch the human spirit and soul.

Harding was voted ‘Best Baritone Saxophonist in the World’ by Downbeat Magazine in 2022.  


Ishmael Ali

Ishmael Ali is a dynamic cellist, guitarist, improviser, and composer based out of Chicago. His work centers on exploring sound through improvisation, experimentation, composition, and collaboration, focusing on a wide array of idiomatic approaches in an ever-changing, always-growing list of projects informed by diverse influences.

Though varying drastically from group to group, a common thread in his work is the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate elements to create something new: both foreign and familiar.

Ishmael is leader or co-leader of a plethora of working projects including the KAH trio, Hearsay, Je’raf, Akjai, Archipelago, and Oido. He has also performed or recorded with Avreeayl Ra, Josh Berman, Jim Baker, Fred Jackson, Ed Wilkerson, Angel Bat Dawid, Jason Stein, and many more.


James Sanders

James Sanders confidently crosses stylistic borders yet stays true to both the jazz violin legacy and his rigorous classical training, creating music that transcends category yet remains faithful to its multiple inspirations.

When Sanders returned home to Chicago in 1989 after earning a Masters Degree in performance from Yale University, he thought of himself as a classical musician. And while he quickly landed a seat in the Chicago Sinfonietta (which he still holds), a chance encounter with jazz violin legend Johnny Frigo changed his approach to music forever.

For over 30 years Sanders has honed his chops as both a leader and collaborator in various contexts: Latin jazz, free improvisation, Gypsy swing, straight-ahead, blues, third stream and more, all the while holding down an orchestra chair as a member of the Chicago Sinfonietta since 1993.


Open Me, A Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit

Kahil El’Zabar

Kahil El’Zabar releases

Join us for the Album Release Celebration at the Union Chapel, London 16 MAY 2024