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Jazz & Ethiopia: Etenesh & Le Tigre & Mahmoud Ahmed & Either/Orchestra

Tom Greenland By

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Eténèsh Wassié & Le Tigre (des Platanes)
Eténèsh Wassié & Le Tigre (des Platanes)
Budamusique
2007


Mahmoud Ahmed & Either/Orchestra
Mahmoud Ahmed & Either/Orchestra
Budamusique
2007




Ethiopia, the first African country to gain independence, has a rich musical heritage of native songs and instruments and state-sponsored brass bands, mixed with various foreign influences, including Spanish flamenco, Middle Eastern modal traditions, South American rhythms and North American pop and soul. Buda Musique has released two recent collaborative efforts between jazz musicians and Ethiopian singers that demonstrate the rich possibilities that emerge when cultures collide.

On the first disc, Eténèsh Wassié melds her dark and soulful voice with the sounds of Le Tigre (des Plantanes), a French quintet consisting of Marc Démereau (alto and baritone saxophones), Piero Pépin (trumpets), Olivier Cussac (organ), Mathieu Sourisseau (bass and guitar) and Fabien Duscombs (drums). Wassié uses a subtle mix of inflection and ornament, often ghosted by the horns, to convey the character and flavor of her native land, while Le Tigre interacts empathetically in the international language of jazz. The rhythm section is understated yet dynamic with Sourisseau favoring a thin bright tone on his electric bass, giving the tracks an edgy sound. Démereau and Pépin are extremely compatible, weaving their riffs and improvisations in a continual warp and weft of give and take. Their interplay on "Woub Abèba" is a ping-pong match, building to ecstatic heights.

The second offering is a DVD documenting the collaboration between the Boston-based big band Either/Orchestra and two Ethiopian singers: Mahmoud Ahmed, a pop star from the "Golden '70s," and Tsèdènia Gèbrè-Marqos in a brief but striking cameo. Interspersed with rehearsal and concert footage are split-screen images of E/O leader Russ Gershon and Ahmed discussing Ethiopian music and politics. E/O previously covered traditional songs, so the band is familiar with the 6/8 and 12/8 meters (called "tchiktchika"), the Phrygian cadential patterns (using chords a half-step above the tonic) and other characteristic traits. At the same time, Ethiopian musicians, influenced by Duke Ellington and others, have developed their own approach to improvised instrumental music. This meeting of cultures, "a duality of familiar and strange" as Gershon puts it, is a natural outgrowth. Gèbrè-Marqos sings a traditional "Bati" with a flute-like vocal quality, keening notes over restrained muted horns. Ahmed, fairly calm in the rehearsal clips, is a consummate showman live, hunching his shoulders or jumping up and down with abandon while he delivers his lyrics in smooth and expressive melismas. The orchestra complements the vocalists with sensitive arrangements and soloing.


Tracks & Personnel

Eténèsh Wassié & Le Tigre (des Platanes)

Tracks: Mèdinanna Zètèssègna; Muziqawi Silt; Ambassel "Fantay"; Tché Bèlèw; Yèzèmèd Yèbaed; Bati; Nèy-nèy Wèlèba; Awash; Man Yehon Telleq Sèw; Esti Lenurbet; Ambassel; Tezeta; Woub Abèba.

Personnel: Eténèsh Wassié: vocals; Marc Démereau: baritone & alto saxophones, screams; Fabien Duscombs: drums, percussion; Piero Pépin: trumpet, banjo, melodica; Mathieu Sourisseau: acoustic bass, guitar, banjo, soubassophone; Olivier Cussac: Hammond organ.

Mahmoud Ahmed & Either/Orchestra

Tracks: Amtak Abét Abét; Tezeta; Atawurulegn Léla; Bati; Bemen Sèbèb Letlash; Embiba; Kulun Mankwalèsh.

Personnel: Mahmoud Ahmed: vocal; Tsèdènia Gèbrè-Marqos: vocal; Russ Gershon: tenor & soprano saxophones; Kurtis Rivers: baritone sax, flute; Jeremy Udden: alto sax; Joel Yennior: trombone; Tom Halter: trumpet; Colin Fisher: trumpet; Leo Blanco: piano; Rich McLaughlin: bass; Pablo Bencid: drums; Vincente Lebron: congas, percussion.

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