Improvised Ethiopian music that, at times, goes nowhere.
Jon Lusk 2009-09-02
If you’ve heard Dub Colossus’s 2008 debut on Real World, then parts of this may sound familiar. Invisible System is an alias for UK producer Dan Harper, who began work on this series of spontaneous jams with local musicians in Addis Ababa before the Dub Colossus Ethiopian dub album was recorded in the studio he had built there. Later, he invited various UK-based musicians to contribute. This makes for a wide range of styles and, occasionally, inspired sound collisions on an otherwise fairly middling ‘world fusion’ album.
Harper’s guest musicians include members of Ozric Tentacles, Eat Static, Transglobal Underground and Loop Guru as well as Captain Sensible, Justin Adams and Gambian one-stringed fiddle player Juldeh Camara. Among the Ethiopian singers is Desta Fikra, whose voice appears on the sparse, dubby opener Hode Baba, with Camara’s sinuous accompaniment twining around it. She’s also there at the close, in the rowdy drum‘n’bass-flavoured setting of Dankira.
However, between these two highlights, the album sags in several places. “It just seems to come from nowhere,” declares Harper of his jamming with the musicians – he plays guitars, bass, synths, didgeridoos, percussion and handles programming as well as showing us how not to design a sleeve. Unfortunately, much of Punt also goes nowhere, as is often the case with music ‘improvised, from scratch’, even by accomplished musicians.
Aside from several numbers that simply drag, such as Min Atefahu, there are some pleasant surprises. Vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed, a veteran star of Francis Falceto’s stunning Ethiopiques series, is a welcome and instantly recognisable presence on the Ethiopian blues of Melkam Kehonelish. The crickets and sounds of children at play that invade Sewbekagn add atmosphere, but the song meanders aimlessly and is beset by psychedelic guitar noodling and listless drumming. But Yeteleye Fikir successfully combines an elastic traditional hand-drum sound with digital beats and didgeridoo drone.
Much of this is simply undemanding and undistinguished. With duff tracks removed, it would have made a good EP.