Monday, January 23, 2017

Various Artists - The Rough Guide To Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network, 2016)

It seems like an odd place for jazz inflected music to flourish, but Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was once the center of a thriving music scene, in the years before and after a Communist junta took power and years of endless warfare and famine laid waste to all that came before it. As with most of the Rough Guide compilation albums, you get a brief taste of the music that the bands and the people of the region recorded, beginning with "Gamo" by Mulatu Astatke, the patron saint of Ethiopian jazz, who left home to study engineering, but wound up entranced by jazz and improvised music at the Berklee School of Music, before returning home to fuse the improvised music of the United States with the rhythms and traditions of his homeland. He would become a hero to musicians in both countries, even playing host to Duke Ellington before the maestro passed away in 1974. Saxophonist Gétatchèw Mèkurya is joined on this album by the anarchist Dutch punk rock band and relentless musical explorers The Ex and other musical friends on "Ambassel" making for a riotous cross-current of powerhouse rhythm and freely improvised music that knows no boundaries. The final track on the album is the elegiac solo piano improvisation "The Homeless Wanderer" by Emahoy Tsegue-Maryal Guebrou. The music is sad yet defiant, seemingly symbolizing the triumph and heartbreak that musician and citizens of the country as a whole have endured in the post World War II era. This album makes for a fine introduction for the curious, and the music of Ethiopia has entranced progressive American jazz musicians like Ken Vandermark and the Either/Orchestra, so it makes for an inexpensive starting point to explore the rich tradition of Ethiopian jazz. There is a solid and informative liner essay and a few photographs of the musicians. For a deeper dive, the multi-volume Éthiopiques series of albums is the logical next step, with albums that cover the major periods and styles of music in fine depth and is a voyage well worth taking. The Rough Guide To Ethiopian Jazz -

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