Ebo Taylor - Life Stories
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Ebo Taylor
Life Stories
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There’s no doubt that the success of compilations of 70’s-era afro-beat, funk, psych and highlife on labels such as Soundway and Analogue Africa had at least something to do with guitarist/songwriter/bandleader Taylor making his international debut last year at age 74, after decades of music making in his home country of Ghana. There can also be little doubt that the success of that recent release, Love and Death, has had at least something to do with this two disc retrospective of his acclaimed 70’s work. But to fully understand the music here, it’s worth noting that Taylor started gigging professionally 55 years ago with notable Ghanaian highlife groups as the Havana Dance Band and the Kumasi-based Stargazers, whom he traveled with to every neighboring West African country. It was here he developed his chops and started to consider where this music might be headed during a time where Ghana was celebrating its first years of independence. And it was this exploration that allowed him to add the simple introductory phrase -- an idea he’d gotten from listening to Cole Porter compositions -- to highlife.

Later studies and gigs in London, along with a love of jazz he shared with another West African-born jazz aficionado and fellow student, Fela Kuti, influenced him even more. Yet, while his love for Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Kenny Burrell have no doubt had impact on his playing, the music he created under his own name, or with bands such as the Apagya Showband or Super Sounds Namba, are not jazz in any western sense. By and large, the tracks heard here, culled from records cut between 1973-80 after Taylor had moved back to Ghana, deal in deep, repeated base lines, prominent hand percussion, raw hunks of guitar riffage, and regimented horn blasts. Any soloing exists to serve the groove. No doubt this description could be used to describe Fela’s music. But Taylor would argue that, since they developed their music concurrently, the comparison is only natural. Of course, there is that debt to James Brown and American soul in general, but anyone who’s spent time digging into vintage highlife records knows this stuff is the logical update. In other words, it’s not wise to over-estimate the American influence. The music itself, even in light of the all-too-numerous comps available of Ghanaian and Nigerian funkiness, is staggering. From the 15-minute blow out of “Aba Yaa” to Taylor’s work with Marijata’s Pat Thomas on “Ene Nyame Nam ‘A’ Mensuro,” the collection rarely lets up. At least three of the tracks are available on other comps, but that shouldn’t keep anyone from missing out on a top-notch, albeit long overdue reissue featuring one of Ghana’s most important musical innovators. - Bruce Miller

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