A horn lover's paradise exists and it is Addis Ababa. At least, the Ethiopian capital was for one night in January 2004, when the American Either/Orchestra, a proponent of "Ethio-jazz, played a rousing concert at the city's third annual music festival.
The fortunate result of that night, the two-CD Live in Addis
, is the 20th volume of Ethiopiques, a series of albums on Buda Musique dedicated to preserving and promoting Ethiopia's rich musical heritage. The music on Live in Addis
is so energizing and beautiful that by the end of the second disc, you only want to hear more.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist Russ Gershon, E/O's leader, writes in his articulate and entertaining liner notes, "hovering over [the visit] was the question of how Ethiopians would respond to a group of Americans taking extreme liberties with their inheritance.
The answer can only be exuberantly. The ten-piece E/O (saxophones, trombone, trumpets, flute, and rhythm section) interprets Ethiopian numbers with colorful, winding horn arrangements and driving percussion, to which the audience responds with immense enthusiasm. Elder statesmen of Ethiopian music join in, including Mulatu Astatké (whose classic compositions anchored the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers
this summer), saxophonist Gétatchèw Mèkurya, and singer Bahta Gèbrè-Heywèt, whose vocals guide the sinuous Middle Eastern melody of "Antchim endèléla, one of the set's most appealing numbers.
Other highlights include "Eyèyè, a folk tune arranged for horns and flute with an elegiac, almost funereal mood, and the traditional "Bati, a minor-key, atmospheric ballad plaintively sung by Tsèdènia Gèbrè-Marqos.
If there's one shortcoming to Live in Addis
, it's the slightly sub-par recording qualityone would love to hear the album's arrangements and soloists as crisply as possible. But that's a minor quibble in the face of two discs full of such exciting music.
Russ Gershon: tenor and soprano saxophone; Jeremy Udden: alto saxophone; Henry Cook:
baritone saxophone, flute; Joel Yennior: trombone; Tom Halter: trumpet; Colin Fisher:
trumpet: Greg Burk: piano, Fender Rhodes; Rick McLaughlin: bass; Harvey B. Wirht: drums;
Vicente Lebron: congas, percussion. With Mulatu Astotq