New York Music Daily

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Tag: ethiopiques

An Awesome New Album and an East Village Release Show by Ethio-Jazz Songstress Meklit

Multi-instrumentalist singer Meklit is one of brightest lights in Ethiopian jazz  But that’s just the starting point for the ex-Brooklynite songwriter, who springboards off that  into a high-voltage mix that also draws on classic soul, funk, rock and ancient Ethiopian folk music. Her Lincoln Center show back in April was off the hook. Now she’s got a new album, When the People Move, the Music Moves Too, soon to be streaming at Bandcamp, and a release show tomorrow night, June 21 at 8 PM at the old Nublu at 62 Ave. C.. Cover is $22.

Since she absconded for the west coast, she’s assembled a killer band. Their not-so-secret weapon is tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley. The rest of the vast cast on the album also comprises but is hardly limited to drummer Colin Douglas, percussionist Marco Peris Coppola and bassist Sam Bevan. The rest of the crew spans from Ethiopian masenko fiddler Endris Hassen to the Preservation Hall Horns.

The triumphantly bouncing, swaying opening track, This Was Made Here, celebrates a DIY esthetic, but there’s also a lot of defiance in the bandleader’s “I’m not gonna wait, no more!” as Tassew Wondem’s Ethiopian wood flute leaps and bounds overhead. The brightly circlingI Want to Sing For Them All also has a defiant undercurrent – on the surface, it sends shouts out to Meklit’s influences, from Prince to a litany of Ethio-jazz stars, but it’s also a reminder that pigeonholing is a big mistake. As Hannah Arendt liked to say, stereotyping is the worst thing in the world. Andrew Bird’s violin pairs with the masenko as the dance rises to fever pitch.

Meklit breaks out her krar harp for the album’s catchiest track, Supernova. Powerful low-register brass fuels a vast, pulsingly dramatic backdrop as Wiley goes into wary Ethiopian mode. The mantra is “Where did you come from,” the point being that everything we’re made of came in with a bang: don’t we owe it to ourselves to keep that going?

Likewise, the Preservation Hall Horns supply the bluster behind Kibrome Birhane’s spare, incisive piano in the funky anthem You Are My Luck. Bird brings his violin back to the subtly polyrhythmic, mutedly moody Yerakeh Yeresal. Then the band pucks up the pace with You Got Me: hearing the New Orleans brass sink their teeth into Meklit’s gorgeously biting, emphatic Ethiopian arrangement is a trip, and a revelation.

Yesterday Is a Tizita brings back the grey-sky atmosphere, a lament that rises to the point where the sky clears and Meklit announces that “Our mistakes became the sun” –  her loping triplet melody is one of the album’s most delicious moments.

Wiley’s catchy, ominous baritone sax riffage drives Human Animal, a straight-ahead mix of hard funk and Ethio-jazz, with hints of 80s new wave. Sweet or Salty maintains that balance of 80s British pop and rustic Ethiopian themes, with acidically swirling masenko against lushly enigmatic strings and understatedly jubilant rat-at-tat percussion.

Happy Birthday starts out as a cute attempt at a replacement for an all-too-familiar ditty that could really, REALLY use a replacement, then becomes an intricate thicket of melody, winding up with a jaunty conversation between Wiley’s tenor sax and one of the trombonists. The album closes with Memories of the Future, shifting back and forth between a majestic, distantly uneasy sway and a jubilant, cantering theme fueled by the New Orleans horns. Lots going on here, plenty to sink your ears into over and over again – one of the best albums of 2017, bar none.

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Hearing Things: Brooklyn’s Funnest New Band

Ever smile so hard during a show that your face hurt afterward? Hearing Things will do that to you. They’re the funnest band in Brooklyn right now. Tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, organist/keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza play bouncy, wickedly tuneful, often very dark original surf instrumentals that frequently veer into psychedelia or Ethiopiques. The trio play at 7 PM on 9/11, the centerpiece of a triplebill at their home base these days, Barbes. It’s a typical Barbes night: the segues are pretty bizarre, but the music is killer. Pianist Joel Forrester, one of the great wits in jazz and co-founder of the irrepressibly cinematic Microscopic Septet, opens the evening solo at 5. If you dig the theme to NPR’s Fresh Air – which he wrote – you’ll appreciate his sense of humor and Monk-influenced purposefulness. At around 9:30, after Hearing Things, guitarist Stephane Wrembel and his trio play his signature mix of Romany jazz, hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia and Pink Floyd-influenced art-rock themes.

Hearing Things opened their most recent Barbes show last month by faking out the crowd with a honking, deadpan cover of Midniter, by the Champs. Sperrazza took a drum break that was more Gene Krupa than Mel Taylor, which made the song even funnier. Would this set the tone for the rest of the night? No.

Bauder opened the next number with a misterioso Ethiopian riff as Sperrazza tumbled ominously on the toms and Schlegelmilch anchored everything with creepy funeral organ. Quickly, they hit a swirly spacerock interlude and then took the song back toward enigmatic Mulatu Astatke territory over Sperrazza’s rolling triplets. The fluttery, echoey outro sounded like early Pink Floyd spun through a food processor.

The nonchalantly macabre stroll after that was a dead ringer for Beninghove’s Hangmen, bloody overotnes dripping from Schlegelmilch’s electric piano, Bauder pulling the trio back toward Addis Ababa, 1976. Then they picked up the pace with an uneasy go-go shuffle, like a John Waters soundtrack piece on brown acid, organ and sax trading menacing fours with the drums midway through, Bauder finally taking an angst-fueled spiral up to the rafters as they wound it up. Then they swung their way through another mashup of horror surf, Spudnik and Ethiopiques, evoking another excellent if now obscure New York keyboard-surf band, Brainfinger. By now, most of the room was dancing.

Introducing Hubble Brag, Bauder took a break and reached for his phone, where he pulled up the Hubble Telescope Twitter feed and proceeded to crack up the audience with a few of them. Pity the poor NASA intern stuck with that job. At the end, Bauder was laughing as hard as the crowd. “We’re mostly a music band,” he shrugged.

Sperrazza’s hushed, ominously resonant bolero groove drove the next number, Bauder’s long washes bleeding overtones over a distant river of funeral organ. They picked up the pace with another uneasily stabbing go-go tune: if the Stranglers played go-go music, they would have sounded like that. The shuffle afterward was a lot more wry and easygoing, Then they took Peter Gunne into the Apollo 5 control room before Schlegelmilch sent it spiraling off towards Doors territory, anchoring his rapidfire righthand organ with catchy lefthand keyboard bass riffage. The crowd screamed for more, but the band was out of originals. It’s hard to think of a better alternative to all the somber 9/11 memorial stuff going on this weekend.

The Sway Machinery Release Their Richly Psychedelic New Album on a Killer Multi-Band Bill at the Knitting Factory

You might think that a song titled You Will Love No One But Me would be a creepy tale about a stalker. As the title track to the Sway Machinery’s new ep – streaming at Soundcloud – it’s a characteristically eclectic, warmly tuneful mashup of reggae, Afrobeat and psychedelia, frontman Jeremiah Lockwood’s enigmatic, deliciously jangly guitar solo at the center. Like most bands in this century, the Sway Machinery have recorded sporadically, if memorably: their previous album Purity and Danger, from earlier in the year, is a sparkling, psychedelic masterpiece, and this one picks up where that one left off. They’re playing smack in the middle of one of this year’s most enticing and eclectic bills on December 16 at around 9 at the Knitting Factory: country blues guitarist/songwriter Jon LaDeau opens at around 7, followed by funky psychedelic Ethiopiques band Nikhil P. Yerawadekar and Low Mentality, the Sway Machinery and then the People’s Champs, who lately have taken a hard turn from funk into Afrobeat at its most psychedelic. Advance tix at the box offfice, open on show nights, are a bargan at $10.

Beyond the title cut, the Sway Machinery ep’s other tracks are just as choice. Kith & Kin bubbles and dances on the wings of Matt Bauder’s sax and Jordan McLean’s trumpet up to Lockwood’s eerie, lingering minor-key twelve-string phrases, an uncanny approximation of a Middle Eastern kanun that works like a charm in the context of this Ethiopiques-tinged tune. Can’t Help But Stare veers from hints of garage rock, to reverb-drenched dub reggae over the steady pulse of bassist Yerawadekar and drummer John Bollinger, up to an almost stadium-rock grandeur.

This Kiss Blooms But Once a Year is the most straightforward and hard-hitting song here, Lockwood’s biting guitar and expressively melismatic baritone welded to a groove that’s part ominously foreshadowed Ethiopiques and part Marquee Moon-era Television. The final cut, My Beloved, is the most unselfconsciously gorgeous, a brass-spiced, simmeringly guitar-fueled, pouncing update on an ancient cantorial theme. As is typical with this band, there are allusions and frequently less oblique references to the Hasidic music that Lockwood came up in – his grandfather, Jacob Konigsberg, was legendary as a choir leader and soloist in that demimonde, and remains a profound influence in the group’s work as well as the guitarist’s many solo and theatrical projects.

Lions Bring Their Haunting, Slinky, Irresistible Ethiopiques Grooves to Barbes

Lions are one of New York’s most enjoyably slinky, mysterious, psychedelically danceable bands. Their specialty is Ethiopiques, the otherworldly, haunting mix of ancient folk melodies, Afrobeat and American jazz that originated in the 60s and exploded onto the global stage when Mulatu Astatke got popular back in the 90s and early zeros. The group of six Israelis and one American have an amazing debut ep streaming at Bandcamp and a show headlining at Barbes tonight, July 17 at 11 PM.

The album’s opening number, Aynotche Terabuslinky has that classic camelwalking Ethiopian triplet rhythm, with brightly wary minor-key riffage from the horns over resonant minor-key organ from Dor Heled, bandleader/guitarist Nadav Peled holding steady to a terse, circular riff as Tamir Shmerling’s bass and Eran Fink’s drums anchor the groove. Peled caps it off with a deliciously spiky, trebly, reverbtoned solo. His blend of 60s psychedelic rock and Ethiopian phrasing is distinctive and intruguing: you never know exactly where he’s going to go with it.

A dynamic horn intro from trumpeter Wayne Tucker, alto saxophonist (and noted big band leader) Eyal Vilner and baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket kick off the brooding second number, Yematibela Wef. Vilner’s pensively bending phrases and Bareket’s purposeful spirals keep the enigmatic vibe going over a hypnotically swaying beat. The best track here, simply called Lions, takes a classic, creepily chromatic bati riff and builds a mighty anthem out of it, with biting horn harmonies, some clever tradeoffs between guitar and organ, Heled taking centerstage with his menacingly swirling, rippling lines. A straightforward Tucker solo takes it up to a mighty, stomping peak.

Peled makes snaky surf rock out of Nagatti Si Jedha with his pinging, incisive lines, building to a darkly climactic, cinematic theme with more than a hint of Bollywood; Heled’s surrealistically pulsing organ solo might be the best one on the whole album. Le’b has a jauntily swinging horn intro and some bracingly offcenter harmonies over a fat roots reggae groove. The ep winds up with Zelel Zelel, lit up with yet more of Peled’s stingingly psychedelic, nimble riffwork.
One of the last recordings made at Williamsburg’s legendary Excello studios, the album has a warm analog feel. Best debut of 2015? There’s nothing that’s come out so far this year that can touch this. If you’re going to Park Slope tonight, you might want to get there early before the back room fills up.

A High-Voltage, Auspicious Kickoff to the Global Beat Festival Downtown

This weekend’s three-day Global Beat Festival in the financial district got off to an exhilarating start last night. There’s a ton of great music coming out of Israel lately, exemplified by the US debut of Libyan Jewish cantorial revivalists the Libyans. Insspired by his cantor father, bandleader and oud player Yaniv Raba has rescued centuries-old melodies and devotional poetry….and then he and the band rock the hell out of them. Frontman Dvir Cohen Eraki intoned them in a sonorous baritone, occasionally indulging in a thrilling, melismatic, improvisational intro. Raba, kanun player Ariel Kassus, bassist Yankale Segal and ney flute player Itzhak Ventura also got to kick off the songs with carefully crescendoing improvisations that hinted at the ecstasy that would sometimes come later.

The sounds ran the gamut of North Africa and the Middle East, a potent reminder of how music from that part of the world continues to come full circle: six hundred years ago, it was next to impossible to tell what was Jewish and what was Berber or Arabic, with everybody borrowing from everybody else. The group opened on a stately note with a lingering, vamping theme, pretty much everybody in the band doubling each others’ lines over Roei Fridman’s tersely hypnotic hand drumming. As the show went on, the group went into trip-hop (or maybe more accurately, a rai rhythm) for a couple of numbers. The energy peaked with a trio of slinky, bitingly modal anthems that echoed classical Egyptian music. The best of these was an original by Raba, featuring a suspenseful oud solo that mined the lowest registers of that ancient, otherworldly instrument.

Washington, DC’s Feedel Band opened their set with a long, psychedelically echoing Fender Rhodes electric piano solo from bandleader Araya Woldemichael before the eight-piece Ethiopian groove band joined him, their tight three-piece horn section – Ben Hall on trombone, Feleke Hailu on alto sax and Moges Habte on tenor sax – carrying the austere, broodingly minor-key hook that made something of a contrast with the undulating, percussive drive underneath. Other than Woldemichael, Habte got the only other extended solo of the night for this band and made the most of it, adding a darkly bluesy edge to the austere melody that probably predated it by a thousand years or more.

The songs alternated between long, dynamically rich dancefloor grooves and almost minimalist, 70s-tinged hard funk numbers, guitarist Mehary Mehreteab adding the occasional wry wah-wah interlude, contrasting with the resonance of krar lute player Minale Bezu and the keening mesenko fiddle of Seteng Atenaw (who brought two different axes, one with a much scrapier, scarier tone). A parade of dancers, three women and two men made their entrance throughout the show, illustrating what could have been ancient courtship rituals and hunting myths. After spending most of the show in acidic, minor-key modes, the group ended on a more carefree note with what was basically a long, extended one-chord jam with plenty of solos for both the band and the dancers.

The festival continues tonight, May 8 at 8 with intense Tunisian-born chanteuse Emel Mathlouthi – who’s most recently been putting her own spin on classic Arabic diva balladry – and then lushly enveloping Canadian-based Persian song reinventors Niyaz. Then on Saturday night, May 9 at 8 there’s rare Honduran twinbill with surf rocker Guayo Cedeno & Coco Bar and then Garifuna guitar legend Aurelio & the Garifuna Soul Band. The concert is free, but it won’t hurt to get there early if you want a seat. Logistically, your best and fastest bet is to go straight down Vesey St. and hang a left into the World Trade Center Path station, then follow the corridor to the right, around the bend, under the West Side Highway and then up into the “winter garden” across the street with its stage in the center of the building’s west wall.

The Sway Machinery Release Another Fiery, Eclectic, Psychedelic Masterpiece

The Sway Machinery are one of the real feel-good stories of the New York rock scene. They’ve come a long, long way since their days in the early zeros, when as one esteemed New York guitarist put it, they were sort of the “cantorial AC/DC.” There’s no band in the world who sound remotely like them. Mashing up hypnotic Saharan duskcore, biting postpunk, Afrobeat, funk and ancient Hasidic ngunim with a searing, guitar-fueled undercurrent, they’re one of the most individualistic and consistently exciting groups to emerge from this city in this century. They’ve got a new album, Purity and Danger, due out next week (hence no streaming link, although three of the tracks are up at soundcloud) and an album release show on March 1 at 6 (yes, six) PM at Baby’s All Right. Cover is $10, which is dirt cheap for that venue.

The big difference with this album is that it’s something of a return to their hard-rocking roots. Bass saxophonist Colin Stetson has been switched out for Antibalas‘ guitar-bass team of Tim Allen and Nikhil Yerawadekar, who provide a bouncy contrast for frontman Jeremiah Lockwood’s tersely searing reverbtoned guitar riffs. The album opens with the brisk, punchy Afrobeat-tinged instrumental title track, Lockwood’s chords blasting in the right channel, Allen playing lithe jangle in the left against the bright harmonies of trumpeter Jordan McLean and saxophonist Matt Bauder over a groove that’s equally catchy and hypnotic.

Rachamana D’Onay mashes up Middle Eastern rock, reggae and Ethiopiques into a surreallistically dancing stew. Revive the Dead has an irrepressible drive that’s part Sly Stone, part pensive 70s European art-rock, with a long jam that’s a study in tasty guitar contrasts, and a soulful trumpet solo out. My Dead Lover’s Wedding circles and careens around a rhythm that’s part 70s stoner art-rock, part camelwalking assouf desert rock.

On Magein Avos, Lockwood makes a bouncy, trickily rhythmic anthem out of its otherworldly, rustic cantorial theme, drummer John Bollinger pushing it with a restless, hard-hitting pulse. The band does Longa, another number based on an ancient traditional theme, as marauding Middle Eastern surf: imagine Eyal Maoz out in front of Budos Band. Then Lockwood returns to a lingering, resonantly psychedelic groove with Al Tashlicheini, a launching pad for his soaring, impassioned baritone vocals.

Od Hapaam is a mashup of joyous oldschool soul, blazing Ethiopiques and searing, suspensefully cinematic stadium rock, Lockwood’s rumbling solo leaving a long trail of sparks in its wake. My Angel’s House skirts funk, desert rock and rhythmically shapeshifting art-rock without hitting any of those style head-on, although Lockwood’s sputtering guitar here wouldn’t be out of place in a Bombino song. The album winds up with Rozo D’Shabbos, by the great Russian-American cantor Pierre Pinchik, reinvented as a vigorously crescendoing anthem that rises out of a hypnotic Afrobeat vamp. Knowing the band, they’ll probably jam the hell out of these songs live.

Haunting, Original, Rootsy Ethiopian Sounds from Dub Colossus

Dub Colossus’ 2008 debut In a Town Called Addis was one of that year’s most original and enjoyable albums, a trippy blend of roots reggae and bracing 70s Ethiopian sounds. This blog didn’t yet exist at that point…and slept on the band’s follow-up, Addis Through the Looking Glass, when that one came out at the end of last year. So it’s good to see that it’s been reissued. Where its predecessor was more heavily produced, with a vintage dub feel, this one juxtaposes rootsy reggae grooves with edgy, modal Ethiopiques vamps, often fleshed out with a rich, jazzy complexity by a polyglot cast of Ethiopian and British musicians. As with a lot of this stuff, the shadow of pioneering Ethiopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke towers over this music. While this might be the last project you might expect to be spearheaded by Transglobal Underground founder Nick Page, he absolutely excels with it, not only as a reggae bassist but also as jazz guitarist and impressively dubwise producer. In case you’re wondering, this is about as far from dubstep as Lee “Scratch” Perry is.

The title cut sets the stage as it grows out of a pensive Samuel Yirga piano line to a swaying, intertwined Nerses Nalbandian style brass arrangement featuring the Horns of Negus. Much of the best Ethiopian music utilizes otherwordly, overtone-packed minor-key modes and this is a good example. The second track, Dub Will Tear Us Apart, is no relation to Joy Division – although Ian Curtis probably would have liked it, being a big reggae fan. This one blends noir tremolo guitars, Farfisa organ, melismatic vocals and swirly keys into a vortex of dub, then leaves it there.

Tringo Dub starts out with a brisk sway as the singer leads a call-and-response over a thinly disguised reggae beat that eventually hits a high with a trippy, staccato Joanna Popowicz piano solo. Yirga’s waterfalling, jazz-tinged piano lights up a slow, bolero-esque ballad sung plaintively by Tsedenia Gebremarkos Woldesilassie. The track after that blends Farfisa, loud rock guitar and a jaunty brass arrangement over a hypnotically circular triplet rhythm. They follow that with a darkly insistent funk tune and then a slow, bluestery noir groove that might be the album’s strongest track. The album winds up with a rustic song for krar harp spiced with light electronic dub flourishes, a haunting, slow reggae jam and then a lush, lively Ethiopian swing jazz piece.

There are also two covers here. The first is a faithful version of the Abyssinians’ Satta Massagana, where the irony of hearing an Ethiopian woman trade verses with crooner Mykaell S. Riley,  in a song written by Jamaicans who’d never left the island, manages not to get in the way. The other is an amusing Ethio dub version of Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking which is a lot rootsier than the original. As with this crew’s first album, there’s a spontaneity and intensity here that’s often missing from more reverential or derivative cross-cultural collaborations. Here’s hoping they keep this alive and make another album somewhere down the line.