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MP3 Music, September 25, 2012
Guzo is the debut release of young Ethiopian pianist Samuel Yirga. Against the odds, Samuel found his way to music school in Addis Ababa and -- despite still being in his 20s and only having left music school relatively recently -- he has developed at a pace remarkable for someone of his age. He has gone on to become one of Ethiopia's most promising young musicians and composers and in recent years, Samuel has gained wider international recognition through his touring and recording with Ethio-fusion group Dub Colossus.
The title, Guzo, means "journey" in Amharic, the official working language of Ethiopia. Recorded partly in Addis Ababa and partly in the UK at Real World Studios, it is the product of his years experimenting with the music of his roots and the outside influences of American jazz (particularly Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock), Latin, and classical music. It explores the traditional musical history of Ethiopia, the more modern Ethiojazz that has brought his country's music to international attention, ventures into big-band brass ensembles, moves through soul and funk, and then simmers with the deeply impassioned solo piano tracks. Whilst the solo piano pieces are introspective and deeply felt, Samuel has enlisted some great singers and instrumentalists from Ethiopia, Europe and the Caribbean. Featured vocalists are the Creole Choir of Cuba, a Cuban choir whose songs go back to their Haitian roots; Mel Gara, a British singer whose origins are in Iraq; and Nicolette, a Nigerian-British singer, famous for her collaborations with Massive Attack.
While Sammy has been influenced by American jazz and funk, he also wanted to record some tunes which showed the great range of traditional music in Ethiopia. On these tracks, which he recorded in Addis Ababa, he was joined by some of the country's best young traditional instrumentalists.
Guzo is both bold and sensitive. It is the start of Samuel Yirga's musical journey and a platform to showcase the extraordinary skill as both musician and composer of this emerging young talent. The album's roots might be firmly in the Ethiojazz of Samuel's homeland, but this young man from Addis has opened up a whole new door on a musical genre and region.
Guzo stacks up well next to the best music of swinging Addis. His three solo piano pieces show huge range: "Drop Me There" is crystalline and delicate..."Dance with the Legend" is as fluid as Keith Jarrett in Koln. Four stars. --Downbeat magazine
Samuel Yirga: A Prodigy Reviving Ethiopian Jazz.
Yirga has had to fight for his right to be himself, and in the end, the voice and vision of a distinctive composer shines through in this impressive debut. --NPR Music Online
... classical sensibilities fused with the native folk sound has made this young artist one of the most exciting and innovative jazz players in the world. --Huffington Post
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Samuel Yirga is a fantastic pianist and composer, at times channeling Mulatu Astatke and Keith Jarrett but most often sounding exactly like himself. 'Guzo' covers a wide range of styles, from haunting piano solo pieces to more upbeat moments like 'My Head' or opener 'Abet Abet.' Strong rhythms are common throughout and there are a couple of fantastic vocal numbers, provided by guest singers.
Probably my favourite purchase from the year.