Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz
[engl] Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz is the new album from revered Ghanaian highlife and Simigwa Do exponent Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, known for his deep, soulful, and funky highlife sound and sometimes referred to as the “James Brown of Ghana.”
A 360-degree musical tour de force as evidenced by his impressive and eclectic back catalogue, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz makes his 35th album release to date. His third release on the German Agogo label, the release sees him breathing new life into some jazz classics, revisiting works by John Coltrane (Love Supreme), Thelonius Monk (Round Midnite), Wayne Shorter (Footprints) and Miles Davis (All Blues) alongside some brand new compositions, powered by polyrhythms and his signature highlife style. The record coincides with multiple live dates through October visiting Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Brussels, Gothenburg, Malmo, Saubriges & Mugron. Since his breakthrough in the early 1970s with his own Simigwa style he has shared stages and studios with some of Ghana's greats like Ebo Taylor and Sammy Larteh with whom he played In the Uhuru Dance Band. Together they founded the Apagya Show Band in 1974. He has since continued to push back boundaries, embrace, explore, create and cultivate an impressive catalogue of work. In recent times, he has become a go-to example of Ghana's rich traditional music form, so much so that he has performed tirelessly through Europe and US and most notably at Utrecht's Le Guess Who Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival. Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz jumps right out of the blocks with 3 straight-up, groove-laden highlife numbers in Sankumagye, Yekor Ye A Yea and Enyidado, a spontaneous mix of Afro-soul and groove with Ambolley's deep tonal and vocal interventions giving a sense that the influence of Afro-American soul music is never far away. Things continue to heat up as the maestro and bandleader approaches various songs from the songbook of classic modern jazz. The rhythmic pulse within each standard is pushed and pulled, ensuring the original is recognisable yet rooted in Ambolley's ancestral home.
In John Coltrane’s Love Supreme he proclaims “John Coltrane said love is supreme & we heard him in Africa very loud and clear.” Taking a very different but direct approach filled with Ghanaian swing Ambolley matches the colours and energy with a rhythmic dexterity and an African spiritual sensitivity that immediately draws you in, allowing a space for the spiritual to rise. The Wayne Shorter classic Footprints receives a similar treatment - it's a toe-tapping workout that leaves you wanting more. Round Midnite, a Thelonious Monk staple, has been covered so many times as a ballad yet here Ambolley gives things an uptempo re-work, a wholly unique inception that makes total sense when you hear it. All Blues by Miles Davis is a well-loved staple of jazz players the world over and is known as a vehicle for endless improvisations and here, in the hands of this master craftsman, is a mesmerising and unapologetic dance floor journey. Polish, panache, melodic and harmonic invention run riot throughout Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz. It's so much more than an experiment in bringing a Ghanaian pen to jazz standards rather a wonderful collision of Ghanaian roots, highlife and Ambolley's Simigwa stylings with Afro-American jazz, soul and funk.