On the eve of the upcoming Leverkusener festival in Germany, which will feature a 20-year retrospective of his work, percussionist Kahil El-Zabar tunes up tonight with the most durable of his performing units, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Still fresh after all these years, this surprisingly versatile trio comprises two horns and El-Zabar, whose contributions range from cyclonic traps drumming to bounding conga fines to butterfly’s-breath ostinatos on an amplified sanza (African thumb piano). The ensemble perfectly represents what El-Zabar knows about and brings to music: focus, self-imposed constraints, and the infinity of expression that lies on the other side of those apparent limitations. The group’s first incarnation back in the 70s involved the now-ailing saxophonist Light Henry Huff, and this concert is another of the benefits being held for him. It may also be the best: it includes three other groups Huff has played in. With a cumulative personnel list featuring pianist Soji Adebayo, reedmen Edward Wilkerson Jr. and Hanah Jon Taylor, drummers El-Zabar and Avreeayl Ra, and vocalist Dee Alexander, one has to anticipate some serious jam-session mixing and matching. Tonight, 8 PM, Southend Musicworks, 1313 S. Wabash; 939-2848.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kamau Kadirifu.