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The Ex with Getatchew Mekurya

The Ex on their album with Getatchew Mekurya...

We loved the "Ethiopiques 14" CD, "The Negus of Ethiopian Sax". A re-release from 1972. That big sound and huge vibrato in a minimal setting. A saxophone sound where you recognise Getatchew in a second! Unique.

We had our 25th year anniversary party in November 2004 and invited a wide variety of musical friends for a two day festival at the Paradiso, in Amsterdam. Our big dream was to invite Getatchew and have him play with the ICP, the Instant Composers Pool, for many decades Holland's most amazing free-improvising jazz group, based around Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink.

But of course we realised that Getatchew came from another world, that he hadn't played concerts for a long time and, in his seventies, was maybe getting on a bit by now. We took the risk, went to Addis to find him and explained our story. He agreed doing it right away!

And the rest was like a whirlwind. It was his first time travelling outside of Ethiopia. When he arrived, he didn't go to bed for two nights, too full of energy. He accepted the ICP as if they were his own band and enjoyed immensely the improvising and the freedom. When he put on his lion's mane, the "gofere", he blasted everyone off stage, playing his saxophone version of an Ethiopian war-chant, the Shellele. He had already played this piece in the 1950's, and for some it is considered to be a keystone to free improvised jazz. Pre-Albert Ayler or John Coltrane. A scene and style of music that Getatchew knows nothing about. Getatchew and the ICP played at the Paradiso, the Bozar in Brussels and later at the Moers Jazz Festival. They were legendary concerts.

On the 25 year Ex Convoy tour around France, he played with The Ex. The energy and spirit that grew from this collaboration, reminded him of highlights from his career, such as his association with the Police Band, with singer Ayalew Mesfin, back in the 1960's.

Getatchew then proposed to make his next CD with The Ex. Ethiopian music at full blast. He chose 10 songs, which he played for us in our room at the Baro Hotel in Addis. We also picked a few of our favourite Ethiopian tunes.

We made our own arrangements from the solo saxophone lines he gave us. Some songs we knew, others completely not. But when we started practising, it never felt like a compromise. The Ex remained The Ex and Getatchew could let his lines and solos fully rip! A miracle. Because, of course we realized again our apparent differences. He played in the Haile Selassie I Theatre Orchestra, with the Police Orchestra, with Tlahoun Gessesse, Mahmoud Ahmed, etc. Not quite our history...

We invited a wonderful horn-section to accompany us, who played with great spirit between the "Ethio-riffs" and the free improvising. Jeroen Visser made his comeback as the Ex's soundengineer, as Colin McLean was playing the bass.

In general we are not big fans of "fusion", but this music really grew from both sides. It felt spontaneous, it almost spoke for itself and somehow came from a very deep source.

The tour was initiated by the Banlieues Bleues Festival in Paris. We did a small seven date tour and a very quick recording session in between gigs. It all really felt like a big feast. Wonderful music every night and amazing to see Getatchew so happy and inspired.

We never imagined we would ever go on tour and make a CD with an Ethiopian saxophone legend, whose career and photos date back to 1948!

It is a tribute to free spirit, essential in our music and very strong in the Ethiopian culture.

Enjoy! Terrie Ex

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