Ebo Taylor / Pat Thomas / Uhuru-Yenzu

Hitsville Re-Visited

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Ghanaian songwriter, guitarist, bandleader, arranger, and producer Ebo Taylor has worked with countryman, songwriter, and vocalist Pat Thomas off and on from the late 1960s through the early part of the 21st century. They played together in the Broadway Dance Band and the Stargazers, and later in the Blue Monks. Together with Taylor's crack band Uhuru Yenzu, the pair cut this brief but utterly magical disc of transcendent, funky highlife for the magical Ghanaian label Essiebons, which was the equivalent of Motown in Ghana and distributed by Polygram. Uhuru Yenzu is a septet made up of some of the best jazz and R&B musicians in the country including tenor saxophonist George Abunyewa, trumpeter Atta Kennedy, prolific session drummer Paa Thomas, and alto saxist George Amissah.

Thomas helmed both the guitar and bass chairs on this session that resulted in "Uhuru Special," one of the most infectiously danceable fusions of highlife and funk ever recorded. It's also one of the longest at over ten minutes, with its cascading horns, call-and-response vocals between Thomas and backing vocalists Anna Sagoe and Abunyewa, and driven by bubbling snare breaks, triple-time percussion, and a bumping bassline. Taylor's melodious hooks are accented by interplay from the horns punctuating all of his picked lines. It's a non-stop dance jam that incudes terrific sax and trumpet breaks along with brilliant vocal improvisations. Another highlight in this four-song set is the souled-out "Go Slow," with its bluesy meld of jazz and highlife, Taylor's shimmering guitar breaks, and Thomas' deeply soulful lead vocals. While "Wiase Ahonya" is relatively brief, the interlocking vocal lines create another line of melodic attack, while Taylor and drummer Paa Thomas hold down the groove that touches on funky Afrobeat in its exhibition of highlife and romantic soul. The jazz tinge is more prevalent in closer "Gyae Su," where Taylor's guitar and Thomas' vocals act as duet partners inside a compulsively attractive melody with horns adding harmonic fills, and a frantic bassline to keep it on track. Throughout its nearly-seven-minute length, drummer Paa Thomas crafts subtly shaded backbeats and tight breaks inside the bouncy rhythm. While Thomas and Taylor worked together almost immediately afterward on their better-known self-titled duo album, Hitsville Re-Visited stands head and shoulders above it for its raw, immediate production, sophisticated compositions, and utterly celebratory mood. Reissued in 2019 by the U.K.'s venerable Mr. Bongo label, it has been thoroughly remastered, making it an essential purchase for fans of vintage African music.

Track Listing

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