Abyssinia Infinite with Ejigayehu Shibabaw (Gigi)
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Abyssinia Infinite
Zion Roots
Network 2003 (www.networkmedien.de)

cd cover The dreamer perceives opportunity in change; the skeptic, threat. The ongoing encounter of regional music with global culture offers support for both. The collaboration of Bill Laswell with Ethiopian singer Ejigayehu Shibabaw (Gigi) initially aroused my inner skeptic with fear that Gigi's expressive, unique vocals might be dissolved by Laswell's global house rave into Afro-pabulum. But the resulting recording, the 2001 "Gigi," was a joy, Laswell's trademark ambient production and assemblage of jazz instrumentalists providing a lively complement to Gigi's vocals, aggressive brass especially invoking a big-city Addis Ababa sound. This new Gigi-Laswell project, under the name of Abyssinia Infinite, simplifies instrumentation while retaining a, well, infinite production depth, amplifying the otherworldliness of Gigi's voice while not obscuring its immediacy.

The slow, glistening synth-vibes and smooth, jazzy sax of lead-off track "Bati Bati" suspend resolution in a bated breath beneath Gigi's quavering vocal, pensive yet earthily grounded, a musical whisper that compels attention and eases one into an appropriately contemplative mood for the rest of the album. "Gela" begins with plunking kirar harp, then accelerates into a quick shuffle pulsing with accordion, Gigi's vocal adroit not only with melody but timing, punctuated by handclaps, chorus, and ululations. The dreamy acoustic guitar and tablas of "Alesema" provide a merrily bouncy background for a repetitive staccato vocal melody interspersed with high, angelic humming. On "Monew Natana," a deliberate rolling beat with pulsing accordion, reminiscent of the takamba "camel gait" rhythm of Mali, grounds a complex vocal line shifting in and out of refrains, handclaps and ululations emerging from deep production distance.

Thundering, gurgling talking drums underlie a driving hand-clapped beat, accordion and nearly subliminal whistle on "Embe Ashafergne," Gigi's vocal ranging from intimately conversational to soaringly declamatory, percussion falling out near the end as lead voice riffs against a chorus. The gentle rolling beat, ambient keyboards, smooth sax chording, random clapping, and playful interaction of lead and choral voices in "Aba Alem Lemenea" is as reminiscent of Talitha MacKenzie's global-Celtic excursions as William Murphy's liner notes suggest.

Those notes are provided in a trio of languages, not including Amharic, and while enlightening, do not entirely compensate for the absence of translated lyrics. But this is a minor quibble with a fine recording. With "Zion Roots," Gigi's intriguing vocals and Bill Laswell's sensitive production have re-energizing the musical dreamer in me. - Jim Foley

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