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Addis Acoustic Project | Twesta (Remembrance)

Album review by John Powell

Addis Acoustic Project | Twesta (Remembrance)

One of the most interesting components of the Addis Acoustic Project’s debut album, Tewesta (Rememberance), is that the CD version comes with a thick booklet describing the band’s beginnings, how the musicians sort of came from all over, bringing different genres and decades into one collective celebrating modern Ethiopian-jazz versions of old Ethiopian-jazz hits. Okay, so if you don’t know the old stuff than the new stuff might miss how cool it is that the project is “Inspired by East-African, Jazz, and Latin musical styles,” or that mandolinist Ayele Mamo, who was has been playing Ethiopian music since the 50s, came together with Girum Mezmer, the arranger and guitar player young enough to understand the need for modern flare.

For any enthusiast of afrobeat, or heck, even of Shakira, The Addis Acoustic Project shows where many modern influences came from, and Tewesta (Rememberance) is a rich set of songs as good for background music as it is for really listening to the nuanced performances.

“Salem Yihoun Lehoulachin”, the opener, is a slow-paced song rooted in jazz, but nonetheless folky, mountain man, Girum’s guitar resonating and beautiful. Throughout the album Henock Temesgen’s upright bass tethers the music to softness, to jazz, even when it branches out into more afrobeaty and Latin grooving, like here when Girum and clarinetist Dawit Ferew play off one another.

I know what you’re thinking: “Clarinet? Really?” The answer is, yes. Dawit has revived the instrument to its warm and rounded reason for being born. Don’t ever think of squeaky noodling around or adult contemporary jazz. It works. You might also think, “Accordion?” Yes, sometimes Girum pulls it out for adding a different effect and it works every time.

The only time I’m wrong is “Ambassel”. The clarinet and pulsing groove behind it gives it a Hebrew in Brooklyn vibe, and is the least compelling song on the album, harsh to anyone that doesn’t have a love of that sound.

Fear not. “Ante Timeta Ene” is almost funky while remaining sexy and slow. “Enigenagnalen” allows percussionist Misale Legesse to step forward and makes a song both Latin groove and jazz dynamic.

By far, the best song is “Mashena”, in which drummer Nathaniel Tesemma and Misale provide a heavier backbone and Ayele bust out tight mandolin, while accordion and clarinet join in for catchy refrain. The song moves, all three lead instruments building layers. It’s wonderful.

Likewise, “Yetintu Tiz Alegn” hits an afrobeat high after a couple minutes of slow building. The groove is worth head bobbing and it’s one of the few songs on the album with lyrics, a nice change of pace as the rhythm transforms into something more playful.

A lot of care and thought was put into this album. The band, playing every Thursday at Club Alize in Addis Ababa, might not be an easy show for many worldwide fans to check out, but that’s why Tewesta (Rememberance) is worth looking into, introducing many to the old Ethiopian hits of the 50s and 60s while teaching you about modern worldly jazz, and this collection of musicians both inventive and respectful of the past.

Bottom line: A way for lovers of jazz, Latin rhythms, afrobeat, and jam music to come together and appreciate some history.


 

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