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Ebo Taylor - Love and Death

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Artist: Ebo Taylor

Album: Love and Death

Label: Strut

Review date: Nov. 3, 2010

When one thinks of Afrobeat, it’s the mug of Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and his 1,000 watt smile that comes to mind. After all, he is the face of Afrobeat, what James Brown is to American funk. But in Kuti’s neighboring country was a composer, arranger, producer and guitarist who, unbeknownst to most, is considered almost as important to the genre. Surprisingly, the over-shadowed Ebo Taylor actually studied with Kuti from 1962 to 1965, at the Eric Guilder School of Music in London. Soon after, Taylor became a fixture in Ghana’s music scene, helping define the West African sound, studio session by studio session.

In 1977, years after gaining respect in Accra as a session player and arranger, Taylor released a self-titled solo record on the local Essiebons label. Good luck finding it. Still, you could easily hear a Taylor cut with some quick googling, likely on one of the many African comps that have come to fashion (he appears on Ghana Special, Afro-Beat Airways, and both Ghana Soundz volumes). So it’s fitting that Strut has given the now 74-year-old Taylor a chance to record another proper full-length, reimagining old standards and crafting original songs, too, backed by Berlin’s Afrobeat Academy.

In place of the raw antiqued crackle of his vintage material, here you have a glossed, digital soundstage for those same horn sections, noodling bass, keys, sunny guitars and omnipresent drums. On Love And Death, Taylor sticks with the style he played 40 years prior, singing in both English and the Akan dialect, in short, complimentary phrases. And though his voice may have aged, he retains the same swagger from yesteryear, able to keep up with the band and rudder them as needed, like the Godfather of Soul did with his JBs.

The album is remarkably well paced and cohesive. Of the non-singing tracks, “Kwame” is a tribute to the late Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president who famously championed Pan-Africanism. Over a funky wah guitar tapestry, rubbing against Hammond organs and a solid rhythm section, Taylor lays down some great guitar lines of his own — perhaps expressing what words cannot. This gives way to the more upbeat “Aborekyair Aba,” a seven-minute workout of interlocking grooves and spirited playing by all members, with female vocal accompaniments contrasting Taylor’s weathered chords.

It’s certainly nice to see the legacy of Kuti living on, and the proliferation of comps from labels like Soundway, Analog Africa and Strut continually prove his undeniable influence on the continent’s music, where hundred’s of bands bit his Afrobeat style. But the involution of digging deeper into a genre, with a collection of songs by a single artist — in this case, providing a timely rediscovery of Taylor in fine form — is sometimes all the more satisfying.

By Jon Dempsey

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