Tommy T.

The Prester John Sessions

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While Ethiopian bassist Tommy T. might have been responsible for some reggae insinuations in the grooves of Gypsy rockers Gogol Bordello, his work with those Balkan bad boys could hardly have indicated the depth and breadth of the influences he brings to bear on his solo debut, The Prester John Sessions. Prester John was the name of a mythical Ethiopian king from the Middle Ages, whose supposedly bountiful supply of riches remained a tantalizing concept to the Europeans who perpetuated the legend. For Tommy T.'s maiden voyage, he takes on the role of a musical Prester John, flaunting the sonic riches of his homeland for enraptured Westerners to marvel at. But while the bassist/bandleader -- who also plays everything from keyboards to bouzouki here -- digs deep into his roots for the traditional sounds he brings forth on such tracks as "Oromo Dub" (where he's joined by Ethiopian singer Abdi Nuressa) and "Tribute to a King," which pays homage to legendary Ethiopian vocalist Tlahun Gessesse, there's even more to the picture. The Prester John Sessions is an intoxicating blend of Ethiopian folk styles, heavy dub reggae rhythms, gut-punching funk grooves, and horn-heavy Afro-beat. The Abyssinian Roots Collective that Tommy has put together for this syncretic endeavor sews everything into a seamless flow, but even when his Gogol Bordello pals pop up on the dub-drenched remix for "Lifers," the album's final cut, the global groove that's been established throughout the rest of the tracks retains its forward motion. Ultimately, Tommy T. takes this opportunity to balance between playing musical ambassador and musical adventurer, freely mixing the sounds he's been carrying inside him all his life with those he's absorbed along his journey.

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