Mahmoud Ahmed & Either/Orchestra: Ethiogroove
Either/Orchestra has found a unique groove in Ethiopian music. Russ Gershon, the leader of the 10- piece big band, included three Ethiopian tunes on the ensemble's CD, More Beautiful Than Death (Accurate Records, 2000). Gershon continued to incorporate Ethiopian music into the band's repertoire. In 2004, Either/Orchestra traveled to Addis to play at a concert with Ethiopian musicians. The exciting and energetic performance is documented on Ethiopiques Volume 20 Live in Addis (Buda Musique). In 2006 Either/Orchestra appeared at the Benlieues Bleues Festival for the first time with singers Mahmoud Ahmed and Tsédénia Gébré-Marqos. It's that concert, along with the rehearsal preceding it, that is captured vividly on the present DVD.
Director Anaïs Prosaïc lets Ahmed and Gershon talk at length about their music and influences. Ahmed reveals that his soul was filled with music ever since he was a child. He would listen to the radio and sing the songs the next day. Later, he joined the Imperial Body Guard Band when the Emperor Haile Selassie eased restrictions on music. His popularity grew and his career as a singer flourished.
Ethiopian music absorbed other strains, and Gershon credits Mulatu Astatqé for his pioneering efforts in creating an instrumental genre out of Ethiopian music and for introducing jazz forms. Gershon, of course, absorbed all of that and went on to make his own mark with the blending of jazz and Ethiopian music. If there is one negative to including this background on the DVD, it is the way in which Prosaïc cuts into the instrumental segments between the vocals to let Ahmed and Gershon speak. He uses a split screen, but as a consequence the music loses its relevance.
Ahmed is in fine voice. He sings with an earthiness that captures the emotion of a ballad and he holds the viewer's interest with his physical movements when he sings an up-tempo song. The Either/Orchestra clearly appears right at home, and it is fun to watch Gershon get into a shared dancing groove with Ahmed. There is another singer in the mix. Tsédénia Gébré-Marqos sings a slow blues "Bati with remarkable phrasing and control. And if she casts a net with her voice, so does Colin Fisher, who plays a most accomplished solo on the trumpet. It is not an easy piece to play, but the artistry with which he navigates the solo part and harmonizes with the ensemble is just superb.
Tracks: Amlak abét abét; Atawurulegn léla; Bati; Bemen sébéb letlash; Embi Ba; Kulun Mankwalésh; Tezeta
Personnel: Mahmoud Ahmed: vocals; Tsédénia Gébré-Marqos: vocals; Either/Orchestra: Russ Gershon: tenor & soprano sax; Kurtis Rivers: baritone sax, flute; Jeremy Udden: alto sax; Joel Yennior: trombone; Tom Halter: trumpet; Colin fisher: trumpet; Leo Blanc: piano; Rick McLaighlin: bass; Pablo Bencid: drums; Vicente Lebron: conga, percussion
Production Notes: 67 minutes. Recorded live on April 7, 2006 at MC93 in Bobigny/Paris, Benlieues Bleues Festival.