Friday, June 24, 2011

The Intersection: Ebo Taylor

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Ebo Taylor (guitar; vocals)
Love And Death (Strut Records; 2011)

When you talk about Afrobeat most people will immediately think, Fela Kuti or his now famous son, Femi Kuti. There are also other African artists throughout the scene that have made an impact and are still doing so. Some are just now being noticed by the wider audience.

While most African artists started out playing jazz and a hybrid of American R&B, many of them eventually came to develop the sound known as Afrobeat. Ebo Taylor played with and in the same circles as Fela and after both spent some time in London during the 60s, he would return to his homeland of Ghana with a new verve and the new sound--Afrobeat. Ebo did finally start to record solo material during the 70s and 80s with great success throughout Africa. But it wasn't until recently that others throughout Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the globe got the chance to learn more about this living legend. Through various African compilations (in particular Ghana Soundz and Ghana Special) Ebo Taylor's name began to spread.

This year saw the release of two amazing documents that are a must have for any music fans. First, Ebo Taylor's first international release, Love And Death, a high-spirited, upbeat session of what amounts to some seriously intoxicating rhythms. The production is superb and enclose the vocals in a fresh updated Afrobeat sound (in the same vibe of many Femi Kuti releases). The album kicks off with "Nga Nga" with fierce horns and a pulsating bassline. Taylor blends in jazz, soul and African aesthetics with great ease. His vocals are upfront and crisp. His voice has aged but its now more the hip and all-knowing elder statesman than one trying to grasp on to the latest new vibe. Taylor's guitars are looping and his compositions are complex and well organized to take the band and the listener on a very extended journey.

"African Woman" again jumps with heavy percussion and horns before quickly heading into Taylor's loving vocals on the beauty of the African woman. It's a dance song that really needs very little explanation. The keyboards contain a vintage vibe but all the while Taylor holds things solid. The title track "Love And Death" could sit along side the best of Burning Spear material. A moving tribute of spirituality and love. Love And Death closes with the mid-tempo "Obra," which really highlights Ebo Taylor's guitar work that contains elements of blues, jazz and soul (imagine early George Benson mixed with Bob Marley). "Obra" contains a lot fluid grooves that will undoubtedly have you bobbing your head and swiveling your feet.

Love And Death gets it roots from Ebo Taylor's earlier groove which are captured in brilliant form on Life StoriesLife Stories captures almost a decade's worth of material from Taylor as leader and band member. Featuring some killer tracks like "Atwer Abroba" which includes a heavy dose of funky horns and dark organ grooves making Life Stories one of a few perfect history lesson on African music.

The music is rawer than Love And Death but gives the listener a great overview of the origins of Taylor's writings and how beautiful his melodies were and what they would soon become. Life Stories also contains original versions of tracks from Love And Death including the title cut. Here the song is rough but includes vocals from Taylor's band in addition to himself. "What Is Life?" includes some awesome keyboard work as well as sizzlin' flute passages.

Both Love And Death and Life Stories are great introductions to one of the under-the-radar Afrobeat legends who is still on the scene today. A real fusion of genres and highly potent material that is a true treasure to experience. Love And Death is one of the best records you hear all year. Highly Recommended.

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