A second act for Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor | Bleader

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A second act for Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor

Posted By on 04.26.12 at 03:26 PM

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Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor has long been one of Africa's most interesting and broad-minded talents, but during a career spanning more than five decades he's often been a sideman or arranger, not a bandleader—he's never achieved the kind of fame he deserves. On last year's excellent Life Stories (Strut), a two-CD overview of his work from 1973 to 1980, about half the tracks are music he played either a sideman or as the guitarist and arranger of the great Apagya Showband.

Though Taylor grew up listening to Ghanaian highlife and soon began playing it himself, touring western Africa with the Stargazers Band, he also became enamored of American jazz. After moving to London in the early 60s, where he studied at the Eric Guilder School of Music, he began incorporating jazz improvisation into highlife, much like his elder classmate Fela Kuti. Taylor never stopped playing music, but by the early 90s he had faded into obscurity, especially outside Africa, where he'd been unjustly neglected in the first place.

Over the past decade, a bunch of Taylor's vintage material has turned up on killer compilations released on Analog Africa and Soundway, and in 2010 he cut Love and Death (Strut), a strong album with German group Afrobeat Academy (which includes guitarist Jay Whitefield of the Whitefield Brothers and Karl Hector & the Malcouns). On that record, as on a lot of his 70s recordings, he put his own spin on Fela's Afrobeat. Taylor has continued to work with Afrobeat Academy, and last week he released a much stronger record, Appia Kwa Bridge (Strut), which adds some high-profile guests—including drummer Tony Allen, percussionist Addo Nettey (aka Pax Nicholas), and guitarist Oghene Kologbo, all of whom are alumni of Africa 70. On the new album Taylor plays a wider variety of styles, and he's developed a much more comfortable and empathetic relationship to the band.

Alongside driving Afrobeat cuts such as the killer opening track, "Ayesama" (which you can check out in the video below), Appia Kwa Bridge includes rustic highlife tunes, including the buoyant "Yaa Amponsah" (also below), a standard from the 20s that Taylor recorded with only guitar and voice. The album closes with the raw acoustic ballad "Barrima," written for Taylor's first wife, who passed away last summer, shortly before the album was cut in Berlin.

DJ Joe Bryl hosts a listening party for Appia Kwa Bridge on Friday night at Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar—he'll spin the new album starting at 8 PM and then dip into Taylor's rich back catalog; the event is free.

Ebo Taylor, "Yaa Amponsah"

Ebo Taylor, "Ayesama"

Today's playlist:

Jackson do Pandeiro, Sue Majestade—O Rei do Ritmo/Forró do Jackson (EMI, Brazil)
Paul Motian, Conception Vessel (ECM)
Various artists, Midwest Funk: Funk 45s From Tornado Alley (Jazzman/Now-Again)
Eric Reed, Happiness (Nagel Heyer)
Roy Acuff, Songs of the Smoky Mountains (Dualtone/Capitol)

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