In January 2004, the Either/Orchestra went to Ethiopia to play at the Ethiopian Music Festival. The band has always been flexible in its vision, and so it comes as no surprise that the group decided to play Ethiopian music (the musicians were already familiar with it, having recorded "The Ethiopian Suite on More Beautiful Than Death). A natural progression was to invite Ethiopian musicians to join the group as guests. And so they got Gétatchèw Mèkurya, Mulatu Astatqé, Tsèdènia Gèbrè-Marqos, and Michael Bèlaynèh, and even pulled Bahta Gèbrè-Heywèt out of retirement! With all that talent on stage, the concert could be nothing less than fascinating, and it was!
Ethiopian music is rhythmic, colourful, and fascinating. These attributes are given an expansive canvas on the opening track, percussion heralding the horns, with Jeremy Udden and Colin Fisher laying the lines that sweep into the melody. The odd metre of the notes daub a deep hue, but percussion and drums add bright sprinkles. Movement is swift and Fisher transcends the obvious and takes a high angular sweep, the swell of his ideas incessantly captivating. Intensity is calmed and the lull is described by Udden through squiggles, quick sliding slivers, and knotted whorls, before it is all enveloped in the giddying whirls of the band.
The mood is gentler on "Altchalkoum." The unison horns in glistening lines give Russ Gershon the lead-in for some hardy tenor that casts taut three-dimensional figures that serrate and etch, yet are blessed with an underlying elasticity. "Shellèla," a war chant, is the power center for Gétatchèw Mèkurya, whose wail is greeted rapturously by the audience. Mekurya invests his playing with a raw edge, a craggy cry, a haughty defiance, fire crackling with intensity, and then in consonance with E/O, he turns the traditional tune into a volatile tempest.
The singers are a revelation in themselves. Whether or not you understand the words, how can you escape the verve of Bahta Gèbrè-Heywèt, the naked emotion that saturates Michael Bèlaynèh's singing, or the purity of Tsèdènia Gèbrè-Marqos' voice that draws you to its flame?
This is a fine exposition of Ethiopian music that, in extension, makes for a throbbing coupling with jazz.
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
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