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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
MEKURIA, Getatchew, and The Ex & Friends. Y'anbessaw Tezeta. Terp. 2012. $19.58. MEKURIA, Getatchew, and the Ex. Moa Anbessa. Terp. 2010. $17.61.
GM, sax; Ex; guests.
EX ORKEST. Een Rondje Holland. Ex Records. 2011. $17.78. Ex with an orchestra.
At the age of 71, the great Ethiopian saxophone player Getatchew Mekuria asked the Ex, an anarcho-punk rock band from the Netherlands, to back him on his album, Moa anbessa, and five years later, when he was 76, they backed him on another album, Y'anbessaw Tezeta, at the head of an eleven-piece group. The second album includes a second disc of earlier music with Mekuria playing with various groups, dating from the early 1960s to 2004 (the modernist cooperative, the Instant Composers Pool). Modernist giant and musical pixie Hann Bennink plays drums on one cut on this second CD and Macarthur [genius grant] fellow Ken Vandermark scored and plays on the first.
The genesis of the albums was two tours of Ethiopia by the Ex somewhere around 2002, as part of their 25th anniversary tour. The core of the EX is its two guitar/drums and vocal lineup., which they freely augment with other players. Nowhere does this dhow better than on their own album, Een Rondje Holland, where a small orchestra of brass, reed and percussion players plus guitars and vocalists (often just speaking, not singing) attack the music in rowdy fashion, making both a musical and political statement that matches well with the best of American rap music., though filtered through the musical sensibilities of Kurt Weill and the political sentiments of Brecht.
If this sounds like difficult music, well it is. But it's awfully good as well, and filled with life and fun.
The two albums with Getatchew are more immediately accessible if simply because so powerfully rhythmic. And Mekuria is a BEAST as a saxophone player. He claims not to have heard Albert Ayler and John Coltrane but his music, from the fifties on, is an African (which means middle Eastern) analogue to this courageous players. Even at seventy-six, he plays like a young man, and because it has taken us so long to hear him ,he sounds startlingly fresh. In the liner notes to Moa anbessa, Chicago sax player Ken Vandermark, surely no stranger to modernist jazz, notes how hard it was to capture Mekuria's lines and flexible rhythm flow for the backup horn parts. What a shame it is that we have only four albums and five CDs of Mekuria's brilliant playing. (The fourth is album 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax: Getatchew Mekuria, in Buda Records's influential Ethiopiques series. Mekuria also appears on vol. 20: Live in Addis, with the Either/Or Orchestra.)
As to the Ex, they may play rock but that barely defines them. Their music is not rock, not jazz. Rather, it`s experimental. And good and fun.
Neither Mekuria nor the Ex is your everyday listening experience, but both are well worth the effort. Mekuria is a giant. The rock collective The Ex is a fine group in a long tradition of Euro performers who use a music -in this case, rock--for a larger musical purpose, part mocking, part serious. Think, Nina Hagen or Lena Lovitch. Or Einsturzende Neubauten (thanks, Jeremy!) or even Melt-Banana.
Music shouldn't come in small boxes.