Boomkat Product Review:
Permitting entrance to the cult Ethiopian pianist’s secret, latter levels, ‘Jerusalem’ holds exceedingly rare recordings certain to be prized by anyone who’s previously encountered her inimitable and unforgettable works. R.I.P.
Born Yewubdar Guèbru in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, 1923, and bestowed the title Emahoy Tsegué Mariam Guèbru when she became a nun aged 21, Guèbru is one of Africa’s most accomplished and distinctively instinctive pianists. Her remarkable life story spans a private Swiss education, deportation to Sardinia and Naples by Italian occupiers of Ethiopia, admittance to a Christian monastery, and a role as music director of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Imperial Body Guard band, before spending a lifetime helping disadvantaged and orphaned children. She eventually moved to Jerusalem in 1984 when Ethiopia’s socialist doctrine become inhospitable to her religious beliefs, and it was only since a 2006 compilation of her work on ‘Éthiopiques 21: Solo Piano’ that her singular oeuvre began to reach a wider audience, followed by deeply cherished reissue of ’Spielt Eigene Kompositionen’ (1967) and an eponymous survey with Mississippi that quickly sell out with every new pressing, such is the overdue recognisation of her work’s brilliance.
‘Jerusalem’ has been a recurring theme in Guèbru’s work since ‘The Hymn of Jerusalem, The Jordan River Song’ (1971) and her relocation there, where she continued to write a singular style of solo piano music informed as much by holy city as the Mahlet religious music of St Yared, and Ethiopian traditional music, as well as Western classical and jazz. The 10 songs appearing on this, their first vinyl pressing, were originally recorded live in Jerusalem 2006-2007 on a piano donated by Noah Samara, and previously found on the CD-only set ‘The Visionary- Solo Piano’ that trades for a pretty penny nowadays. They were all written during her time in Jerusalem, and come to effortlessly reflect the city’s modal make-up and historic East-West nexus in her elision of so many styles.
Between the jaunty pentatonic blues of ‘Have You Seen Assayehegn?’, the waltzing elegance of ‘The Home of Beethoven’, and the chanson of ‘Quand La mer Furieuse’ we’re privy to snapshots of Guèbru’s lesser known latter years. There are utterly mesmerising highlights in its title track, including a rare appearance of her voice introducing the piece, and simply devastating levels of emotion pouring from works such as ‘Farewell Eve’, and quizzical cadence of ‘Aurora’, each playing with her “gift from god” to instrumentally reflect feelings on family, nature, loss, and religion, with a practically unparalleled ability to conjure fleeting emotions in her swaying and naturally breezy style.
A total no brainer. Buy on sight.