Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Tommy T – The Prester John Sessions

Prester John was a mythical medieval contradiction in terms, a benign despot whose apocryphal, abundant kingdom sparked many fruitless expeditions to locate it. One popular theory at the time was that it was in Ethiopia. Centuries later, Ethiopian-born Gogol Bordello bassist Tommy T has used the myth as a springboard for one of the funnest, most hypnotic albums of the year. If the snowfall of recent days has gotten you down, this utterly psychedelic, summery cd will get you up again. It doesn’t sound much like Gogol Bordello (though there is a deliciously fat reggae remix of that band’s song Lifers at the end as a bonus cut), but in its own way it’s just as good. It’s a groove-driven, unique blend of Afrobeat, oldschool roots reggae and classic dub. There are echoes of Ethiopian jazz, notably Mulatu Astatke of Broken Flowers fame, but the closest approximation is another groundbreaking album that came out about a year and a half ago, the sprawling Dub Colossus project.

The first track sets the stage for much of the rest of the album, a catchy reggae number with bubbly organ and tasty, melodic bass prominent in the mix, but also in tricky 7/8 time, with screechy massinqo (Ethiopian fidddle) playing what are often essentially lead guitar lines. If that isn’t original, you decide what is. The following cut is slinky, dubwise reggae with brief lyrics in Amharic. Then they go jangly with an almost Appalachian feel and minor key acoustic guitar: from a distance, it could be Tinariwen.

The Eighth Wonder kicks off with a hypnotic early 70s style funk/soul groove with Fender Rhodes piano and a blazing horn chart, massinqo sailing blissfully overhead. They follow that with a gripping, dark dub rearrangement of a couple of ancient folksongs. East-West Express is a juicy dancefloor vamp, sort of Fela gone further east. Cleverly nicking the hook from Marley’s Crazy Baldhead, the gorgeously eerie, rustically-tinged Tribute to a King segues into a bounding dance, practically a jig with massinqo, string synth and wah guitar. It works deliriously well. The album wraps up with a soulful dialogue between scorned lovers and then a strikingly contemplative, atmospheric number that finally bursts into flame when a bright, insistent horn section takes over. All the way through, the playing is inspired, and the production is far deeper and heavier than your typical digital recording. It works just as well on headphones as it does with a boisterous crowd. World music fans and stoners alike will be all over this one.

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December 21, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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