Ethiopian Jazz (Ethio Jazz) began with Mulatu Astatke, the first African student at the Berklee College of Music in the 1960s. He fused jazz with Ethiopian music to create a sub-genre which employs heavy rhythm, horns and several minor sounding scales. On Ethio Jazz Volume One, the Toronto jazz guitarist Jay Danley states Ethio Jazz has shown him “an entirely new way to play guitar, compose and most importantly how to hear” by combining the freedom of jazz with the “discipline of applying the scales, rhythms and ‘feel’ of Ethiopian music.”
The Jay Danley band has a core group of guitar, bass, drums, percussion and two saxophones. This is augmented on several tunes with “special guests” Hilario Durán on piano and Alexander Brown on trumpet. The arrangements are in a straightforward melody, solos and melody format. The rhythm is in the pocket for the whole album, creating a smooth and grooving background. The fat bass, combined with horns using fourths and fifths in their harmonized lines, creates a rich but edgy sound. The melodies and solos use the Ethio-jazz scales, which provide extra tension that contrasts with the funky background. All the musicians are excellent: Danley’s solos are well crafted and Durán’s piano playing is another highlight. Bring on Volume Two!