Getatchew Mekurya, Ethiopiques Volume 14: Negus Of Ethiopian Sax

Banning Eyre

By Banning Eyre

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Ethiopiques Volume 14: Negus Of Ethiopian Sax

Getatchew Mekurya

Instrumental African jazz doesn't get much more interesting than this. Mèkurya's technique, speed and passionate approach to improvisation might suggest a taste for bebop, but in fact, he hardly listened to the stuff. His main inspiration is a traditional vocal style called shellèla, a wordy, rapping oratory used to rev up warriors for battle in earlier times. Rendered in the mellow tones of a vintage tenor, the music's aggressive nature takes on a totally unique other-worldliness. Most of the accompaniments feature hypnotic ostinatos and organ drones — sometimes just one chord — and slow, 6/8 time. In these settings, the soloist is free to rip with fluttery cascades of restless riffing. All the tracks but one (the late-'50s-vintage "Shellèla Bèsaxophone") were recorded in the same year, 1972, but there's enough variety in the backing instruments and raw inventiveness in Mèkurya's solo flights to stand up to many listenings.