3

Live From Old York: Krar Collective, Big Boy Bloater, Jason & The Scorchers & Walter Trout

Martin Longley By

Sign in to view read count
Krar Collective
National Centre For Early Music
York, England
October 5, 2012

Despite the increasing interest in Ethiopian music,-growing from retro appreciation to present day innovations-opportunities to catch live performances of these sounds are still reasonably scarce. The London-based Krar Collective set out to remedy this situation in October with an extensive UK tour, hotly chasing the release of their album Ethiopia Super Krar (Riverboat, 2012).
What's all this talk of the krar? Well, it's the signature instrument of Ethiopian traditional music, a variant of the harp-lute which is like no other manifestation of this stringed beast. Its closest relative is the nyatiti from Kenya. There are usually five or six strings, and the player suspends the instrument with a leather wrist-strap, the plucking and strumming fingers of one hand ranging high and low, blurring to each side of the more stationary digits. The fingertips of this last hand only touch the strings lightly. The peculiar tuning of Ethiopian music places it not quite in Africa, and not quite in the Middle East. Its tonalities are completely unique, the vibrations existing in their own netherworld of unusualness. The music has become more familiar outside its homeland during the last decade, but it still holds the shock of the strange.
Given the minimalist line-up of the Krar Collective, it might be expected that their repertoire was going to be traditionally oriented. The songs still retained a deep resonance with core methods, but Temesgen Zeleke mostly played an amplified krar, customized with pick-ups and visually very different to his battered old acoustic version (complete with its animal-skin resonator). Using an effects pedal, he largely retained a harp-like sound, but there were also many phrases that held the tonality of an electric piano, clavinet or guitar, particularly when strummed close to the pick-ups. Zeleke's mentor in his student days was Mulatu Astatke, one of Ethiopia's greatest musicians.

Zeleke and kebero drummer Amare Mulugeta both wore black velvet headbands and belts, encrusted with silver decorations. Singer Genet Assefa wafted on in a voluminous cloak and high heels, beginning the set with a pair of ethereal invocations. The control of her voice was astounding, in terms of technique, and also its sheer emotional expression. After a speedy costume change, she re-emerged in a completely different mood, flat shoes enabling some vigorous dance moves. The nature of the songs suddenly became more extroverted.

The kebero are just a pair of unremarkable-looking drums, but are capable of a rich tonal variety, particularly when plunging deep down to the bass zone. As with its album, the Collective made a dense sound with scarce resources. If peepers were closed, they sounded like a much bigger band. The krar is so multiphonic that it covers whole layers of sonic territory.

There was a balance between uncompromisingly hardcore Ethiopian elements and a leavening entertainment stance, where the audience were invited to sing or dance along. The set was well-paced, with a striking interlude featuring a entirely solo song from Zeleke, playing the acoustic krar. He slowly walked around the church, serenading the audience, casting a spell of sensitivity before plugging in and being re-joined by his band mates. He also played an outstanding solo version of "Tizita," from their album.

Big Boy Bloater
The Duchess
York, England
October 5, 2012


The English Big Boy Bloater models himself on an American bluesman prototype. Mostly, it's likely to be guitarist Freddie King, but matters aren't quite as simple as that. Bloater also infests his playing and songwriting style with a vast array of trimmings, ranging from country and rockabilly to gospel and surf rock. The dominant factor is a desire for geetar-twanging excess, his whammy bar deployed to fully vibrating effect.

The songs all featured quite specific tale-spinning lyrics, stamping a memorable imprint on the listener's face with "Big Fat Trap," "Rocket Surgery," "Insanely Happy" and "She Gets Naked For A Living." The opening track on The World Explained (Azan, 2012) is "Leonard Cohen," inspired by Bloater's previous visit to York, a bender of food poisoning featuring misery-songster hallucinations. He also dedicated a song to "all the serial killers in the house." This gives a flavor of the Bloater's highly pushy style, both as a guitarist and as a hollerin' singer. The suit, the big hat and the neck tattoos are all part of his moonshine and basement den persona. Bloater kept the joint pumpin' for just over an hour of unrelenting Americana grit, not forgetting to add British seasoning with his geographically specific subject matter. The garrulous toaster and the threatening gangster walked hand-in-hand.

Jason & The Scorchers
Fibbers
York, England
October 6, 2012

Shop

More Articles

Read Panama Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Panama Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Holston
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom Live Reviews Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
by Geoff Anderson
Published: February 20, 2017
Read The Cookers at Nighttown Live Reviews The Cookers at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: February 16, 2017
Read Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens Live Reviews Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 15, 2017
Read "Ralph Peterson's Triangular III at Nighttown" Live Reviews Ralph Peterson's Triangular III at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: April 18, 2016
Read "John Handy Tribute At SFJAZZ" Live Reviews John Handy Tribute At SFJAZZ
by Walter Atkins
Published: January 30, 2017
Read "Steve Kuhn Trio at Dazzle" Live Reviews Steve Kuhn Trio at Dazzle
by Geoff Anderson
Published: April 13, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!