15 November 2012

Visiting Africa

Matt Ottignon and his Ethio Groove project are playing just one part of the spectrum of African musics. Matt explained some of the background. Ethio Groove is a new development of Mulatu Astatke and that it first appeared in his compilation called Ethio Groove. Mulatu had studied jazz in London and performed with Latino musicians in New York before he returned to Ethiopia to develop his Ethio-jazz style. To generalist ears, it’s based in the rhythmically intense musics of Africa, but Matt also talked of local scales (Wikipedia says modal pentatonic with long intervals and not tempered – Music of Ethiopia, in Wikipedia, viewed 14 Nov 2012) and styles of singing and specific rhythms. It’s certainly infectious and danceable. Matt himself stood rocking side to side, and although the audience were seated, there were plenty of tapping feet and nodding heads. Our Euro-reticence seems so out of place when this music gets a head of steam. It’s cleverly played and the solos are interesting, but it’s primarily physical and probably best appreciated on your feet.
Matt with his wildly syncopated heads and call and response solos. Luke S on the organ, with growling solos and choppy comping. Brother Eden O laying repeating lines, often oddly spaced, on electric or double bass and Luke K-B holding steady on some devilish repeated but irregular beats. We were introduced to a rhythm from Tigré that crossed triplets with straight beats. Like jazz swing, this is something you learn to feel and it’s impossible to write. It’s like a language: you have to learn and it’s best learnt young. I could feel an underlying beat at heart-beat speed (120bpm) under most tunes, often four-to-the-floor on the 1-2-3-4, sometimes on 1-3 (I don’t think on the jazzy 2-4), but I tried to tap the bass lines a few times and it wasn’t in my vocabulary. Interesting that; understanding requires time and immersion, as does Matt’s rocking gait. It’s dancy so the immersion would be fun. Matt introduced the tunes and the performers, but it’s all Ethiopian to me. Other than one tune that was sung by two women with the Ethiopian Army Band. Or a mention of an 80-ish Ethiopian saxist playing punk in the Netherlands. Or when they took a turn sideways for some originals from Luke S and doubly so when they played a Pharoah Sanders tune that floated with bowed bass and piano arpeggios and cymbals and a rich and deep tenor tone. That was a change. But mostly it was the triplet feels and funky but stilted beats of Ethiopian groove and it was indulgent and immersive and physical. This is really music for the body and soul, even if the intellect if satisfied. Matt Ottignon (tenor) led his Ethio Groove project which comprised Eden Ottignon (electric, acoustic basses), Luke Sweeting (organ, piano) and Luke Keanan-Brown (drums)

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