21 October 2005

Ethiopia-Boston Big Band Jazz (CD review)

band site : buy CD/hear samples

The Either/Orchestra is a ten-piece jazz ensemble based in Cambridge Massachusetts. The Ethiopiques series of recordings is known for re-releasing music from Ethiopia's "golden years" in the early 1970s. What strange events conspired to bring them together?

Let's just say that a chance 1994 encounter between E/O bandleader Russ Gershon and a CD called Ethiopian Groove: The Golden 70s led to E/O's reinterpretation of some Ethiopian classics. And a chance encounter between this music and the ears of Buda Musique's Francis Falceto let to an invitation for E/O to perform at the 2004 Ethiopian Music Festival. And that's where this live 2-CD set originated. That's the story, though the liner notes provide far richer detail.

But I know you're now wondering if this sounds like jazz or like world music, right? Well, yes. And the tilt of that "yes" depends on where you're listening from. Fans of Ethiopian music will hear familiar rhythms and melodies, such as the unmistakable Arabic tinge of "Muziqawi Silt" (which has, in the hands of the Daktaris and Antibalas become an Afrobeat anthem). Less Ethiopized ears may simply hear an adventurous jazz big band experimenting with unusual rhythms and exotic melodic lines. This illusion holds up through most of the first CD, but is shattered on the last track, "Soul Tezeta," when the Motown ballad feeling gets a rich dose of vocals by Michael Belayneh. Also graced with Ethiopian voices are the shuffling "Antchim Endelela" featuring Bahta Gebre-Heywet, and the sublimely torchy "Shellela" sung by Tsedenia Gebre-Marqos. While the Ethiopiques series has provided some great blasts from the past, this latest release proves that Ethiopia's unique and compelling music lives on today. Highly recommended.

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