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Tommy T The Prester John Sessions Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Debut sort-of-solo offering from Gogol Bordello’s Ethiopia-enthralled bassist.

Jon Lusk 2010

Tommy who? Otherwise known as Thomas Gobena, he’s the bass player in New York-based ‘Gypsy punk’ band Gogol Bordello. And he has named this debut solo album (made with his own band, Abyssinia Roots Collective) after a legendary Christian king often associated with Ethiopia.

“Prester John is the character I use to symbolise the man who will bring Ethiopian culture to the rest of the world,” explains this former resident of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. In his bid to do this, Tommy T has mixed Ethiopian roots styles, modes and tunes gleaned from vintage vinyl with the dub and jazz of his colleagues.

The results will no doubt draw comparisons with recent albums by Dub Colossus and Invisible System. Actually, in much the same way that Dub Colossus singer Desta Fikra lifted an otherwise fairly average set by Invisible System, The Prester John Sessions is glammed up considerably with a couple of appearances by Ethiopian singer Gigi.

She illuminates the sparse, brooding Eden and is also the star of The Response, which answers Tommy T’s supposedly lovelorn entreaties on preceding track The Call. The only problem with this is that it shows up what a weak singer Mr T is. He’s much more effective with bass, guitar and keyboards, on which he skanks away productively throughout.

It’s predominantly an instrumental album anyway, and there are some fine players involved, both among the guests and band members. The most notable of the former is Setegne Satenaw, whose gnawing runs on massinko (one-stringed fiddle) lend an authentically rootsy ambience to four of the eleven tracks. DeAndre Shaifer contributes cool flugelhorn and trumpet to Eden, and the brass section of Andrea Fabbri and David Sislen spar engagingly on Tribute to a King. They also do a pleasant sax duet on September Blues, the album’s most atypical piece.

The other guest vocalists are Abdi Nuressa, whose garbled vocalisations lend a somewhat stoned flavour to Oromo Dub (Cushitic Dub) and Eugene Hütz (of Gogol Bordello), whose comically hammy Ukrainian accent sounds a lot more out of place than Pedro Erazo singing after him in Spanish on Lifers.

After several spins, the impression is that the group’s jams and rearrangements aren’t quite enough to sustain interest over 50 minutes. But what’s also clear is that they’re probably a lot more interesting live.

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