Personally, I can't resist a musical story that begins: "Molly Tigre set out from Brooklyn to answer one tough question: What if the 70s vibes of the cult Ethiopiques series collided with Saharan desert rock and West African blues, but with no guitar to lead the melodic way?" I'm not quite sure what some of that even means. But I do know that it intrigues me enough to find out.
"I wanted to bring together some of the music and styles from Northern Mali and certain regions in Ethiopia, like Tigray," co-founder and bassist Ezra Gale says to introduce and explain Molly Tigre's eponymous debut. "We both realized we were big fans of that music, and not many musicians were doing anything with that at the time," concurs saxophonist Mitch Marcus, also a member of the Afro-pop band Aphrodesia.
To flesh out and bring life to their shared vision, Gale and Marcus enlisted reedman Chris Hiatt from Japonize Elephants; percussionist Ibrahima Kolipe Camara from the National Dance Company of Guinea, Kakande; and drummer Joey Abba from The New York Jazz Exchange.
Untethered to any chord instrument other than Gale's monster-stomping bass and Marcus' occasional Farfisi organ, horns and percussion swim wild, deep and free through every level of Molly Tigre, painting in colorful and multicultural sounds. "Lebanese Blond" sets up two melodies and then turns them against each other, with saxophonists Marcus and Chris Hiatt blasting out improvisations from where they meet in the middle, recorded in a vibrant "live in the studio" sound that follows their interplay with such detail that you can feel them breathe in and out with each other.
"Couscous Timbuktu" lands in your ear like marching elephants, drums and percussion pounding the basic rhythm into a dirt path while bassist Gale keeps fat and heavy time like a metronome Buddha. Gale opens "Y Knot" with a resounding Charles Mingus-sounding bass prophecy before drums and percussion kick off a Latin jam with a twist of Middle Eastern flavor from the saxophone's overtones of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.
"Ethiofreaks" incorporates vibes, a perfect addition to this simmering stew because it's both melodic and percussive, to honor Ethiopian jazz vibes master Mulatu Astatke; "Yekermo Sew," composed by Astatke, dances Molly Tigre directly back into Africa to close.
"There's a tradition of this in jazz, as people have done piano-less quartets," Gale concludes. "You get to imply harmonies without a guitar or piano spelling it out, which makes it open and free. It's hard to do well and make it sound full."
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