[album review] ebo taylor: love and death

November 21, 2010

Album cover for Love And Death by Ebo Taylor

Ebo Taylor: Love And Death (Strut Records, 2010)
£3.36 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £6.99 from [Boomkat]

One of the great unsung heroes of modern African music – highlife in particular – Ebo Taylor may not be as internationally well known as Fela Kuti, Mulatu AstatkeHugh Masekela et al, but his contribution to the development and spread of the form has been just as energetic and effective as his more celebrated peers.

Thankfully, he is starting to emerge from his relative obscurity. Following the sampling of his 1970s track Heaven by Usher and Ludacris earlier this year, he returns with his first widely released album in many, many years (a complete discography doesn’t seem to have been compiled anywhere).

Love And Death is a sparkling collection of afro-beat, highlife and balladry. The recording is sumptuous, and really shows the tightness of the assembled band – the Berlin-based Afrobeat Academy. Opening with the mid-tempo grooves of Nga Nga and African Woman, the album reaches its first peak with title-track Love And Death, a rhumba-like rumination (first recorded for 1980’s Conflict Nkru! album) on how the two phenomena are intertwined.

This peak is sustained on the next track, an instrumental version of Victory, which again originally appeared on Conflict. As an uptempo jazzy number – with a wonderful, flowing trumpet solo from Canadian Stu Krause – it is easy to miss the fact that it is based on a traditional song about the blood sacrifice of those that died in inter-tribal conflict in pre-Ghanaian history.

After a trio of solid tracks, including a tribute to pan-Africanist and political founder of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Love And Death closes with a beautiful piece avowing taking responsibility for your own fate: Obra.

Like the songs that precede it, it showcases a musician totally at ease with himself. At ease but, even at 74, not complacent – a sweet spot for creating rich, wise music. Watch out for a tour in the new year.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.

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