Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble

Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble’s repertoire is a reflection of the mixing of cultures that has increasingly evolved in the world of music in recent decades.

Described as “.  . . a cross-cultural collaboration that spins & grooves” by the New York City Jazz Record, Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble is an imaginative and tight quintet that churns out its unique brand of pulsating world music with infectious danceable rhythms in various jazz, Afro-Caribbean, and Brazilian styles.

Marlow’s musical journey has been infused with numerous Latin jazz influences over a long period of time. His early music “listening” was a combination of classical, big band jazz, and Latin-style music. It was through his father — a classically trained violinist, orchestral leader, and composer — that he was introduced to this wide range of musical styles. “For me, Latin jazz-style music represents the kind of rhythmic drive and pulse that speaks to people. It makes them want to move, especially to dance,” says Marlow. As a result, he has had a lifelong affinity for Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms and has incorporated a whole host of Latin rhythms and sounds in his compositions and arrangements throughout his musical career.

Eugene Marlow’s Heritage EnsembleThe Heritage Ensemble began in the early 1980s when Marlow was asked to perform a version of a traditional Hebraic melody, L’Cha Dodi, at a weekend retreat. At the time he was studying with jazz composer/pianist/educator Harold Danko. While learning the piece he began to experiment with jazz chords underneath the melody line. The traditional version took on a whole new feel as a result. The piece became an opportunity for a swing-style jazz improvisation. This was the beginning of a personal process to explore Jewish liturgical and folk music as raw material for jazz—and especially Latin jazz—arrangements and performances.

From that “experimental” beginning has evolved a quintet, The Heritage Ensemble, a repertoire of over two dozen arrangements with strong Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms, and three CDs — “Making the Music Our Own” (MEII Enterprises 2006), “Celebrations” (MEII Enterprises 2010), and “A Fresh Take” (MEII Enterprises 2011). A fourth album–“Remembrance”—is forthcoming for 2013. These recordings underscore Marlow’s innate impulse to incorporate and adapt Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms to the arrangements.

The underlying purpose of the music is to explore the commonalities among the various cultures from which all these musical cultures are inherited. This is part of the reason the word “heritage” is in the Ensemble’s name. The performers’ collective multi-cultural and musical backgrounds add immeasurably to their performances. The result is a fresh sound and an interactive experience that audiences can access, be inspired by, and appreciate.

Without a doubt, the formation a few years ago of the current Heritage Ensemble personnel—featuring five-time Grammy nominee drummer Bobby Sanabria, NEA Performance Grantee saxophonist Michael Hashim, Phi Beta Kappa bassist Frank Wagner, and Nuyorican virtuoso percussionist Obanilu Allende—has had a major influence on the adaptation of Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms to Marlow’s arrangements and original compositions.  Marlow is the Ensemble’s keyboardist/composer/arranger.

The quintet performs in traditional and non-traditional venues, such as: the Brooklyn Academy of Music Café, the Baruch Performing Arts Center, The Triad Theatre, the Nuyorican Poets Café, the Dizzy Gillespie Auditorium, and Symphony Space. They have also performed at Saint Peter’s (at Citicorp Center), the Bronx High School of Science, the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, and the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, among many other venues.

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