Gigi - Gold & Wax
Gold & Wax
Palm Pictures (www.palmpictures.com)
This disc is being called the followup to Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibawbaw's self-titled 2001 debut. And it is, as long as you somewhat disingenuously disregard 2003's glowing Zion Roots, credited to Abyssinia Infinite but featuring Gigi as lead singer throughout. However, to properly assess this new Gigi release (and it's a worthy one), you've got to compare it to both her previous efforts. The 2001 disc was a modern milestone that combined Gigi's airy, beautiful singing with funk, dance, Afro-Asian and techno textures, yielding excellent results. The Abyssinia Infinite project was a more acoustic affair, heavy on the traditions of Gigi's Ethiopian homeland and also excellent. Gold & Wax, produced once again by the great-when-he-wants-to-be Bill Laswell, leans closer to the first album and yes, in that respect, ought to be seen as its true successor. It's stacked with top flight guest players (Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Ustad Sultan Khan, Karsh Kale, Foday Musa Suso, Aiyb Dieng and more), takes many of its cues from the 2001 release without cloning it and, most importantly, showcases Gigi's spiritual, sensual singing to the max. Her nimble high tones can scat effortlessly through dense Amharic lyrics or stretch words and syllables for emphasis, always riding the twisting rhythms and Laswell's gimmick-free modern production gracefully. There are songs that reference classic Ethiopian soul ("Salam"), Indian fusion ("Hulu-Dane"), Semitic splendor ("Jerusalem") and global pop (the mostly-English "Utopia"). Regardless of whether the melodies are constructed with strings, horns or synthesizers, they're never short of stirring. Some explanatory liner notes as to the meanings of the songs (and the title) would have been a plus. This is a terrific album, but perhaps Gigi's next one can split the difference and combine the best of her modern sound with the traditional tone of Abyssinia Infinite. - Tom Orr
Available from cdroots.com
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