Ethiopiques

ODE TO ETHIOPIA
The John Betsch Society
Earth Blossom
Strata East : 1974

JB, drums, percussion; Billy Puett, saxophone and flute; Bob Holmes, piano, electric piano, percussion; Jim Bridges, guitar; Ed “Lump” Williams, bass; Phil Royster, congas, percussion.

A lost classic of spiritual jazz, we’d wager that Earth Blossom is more familiar to groove fiends than free jazz aficionados. But fans of adventurous jazz – of whatever stripe – need to know this record. It’s brimming with surging horns, percolating polyrhythms, soulful guitar lines, and just enough ragged edges to keep things honest. The textures sometimes even verge on the kozmigroov and psychedelic.

The album sports some wilder tunes than “Ode to Ethiopia,” including ones with pure skronk and percussive piano, not to mention a fine tribute to Sun Ra. But we chose “Ethiopia” to kick off our first musical post of the New Year because of its infectious melody, its graceful grooves, its effortless lightness and sure sense of uplift. Something we figure everyone  could use as we all turn another fraught page of the calendar.

After recording this album, John Betsch moved to New York City and went on to play with such luminaries as Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, Max Roach, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jeanne Lee, and Henry Threadgill. But this neglected masterpiece remains his true testament. When they rewrite the cannon of 1970s jazz, the enduring pleasures of Earth Blossom will finally stake their claim.

For more info on this and other albums released by the mighty Strata East label, be sure to visit the Strata-East Fan Club.

If you’re not hip to the treasure trove of amazing Ethiopian jazz, funk, and groove music that’s been released in recent years, do yourself a favor and check out the Ethiopiques reissue series. We highly recommend Volume 4 and Volume 8, but there’s no shortage of essential music here.

For a riveting account of events in Ethiopia during the 1970s, Rsyzard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor offers a series of revealing first person accounts from those who served directly under Haile Selassie. It’s a surreal history that reads like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.

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What’re some of your favorite adventurous jazz albums that aren’t afraid to get funky?

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