Girma Yifrashewa: Love & Peace
Unseen Worlds

The release preceding Love and Peace on Unseen Worlds was Lubomyr Melnyk's 2013 set Three Solo Pieces, but Girma Yifrashewa and Melnyk share little aside from being solo piano players. More precisely, Yifrashewa's melodic and folk-influenced approach feels worlds removed from the dazzling blizzard that is Melnyk's Continuous Music, something Love and Peace, the first release of Yifrashewa's music to appear outside of Africa, makes clear.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1967, Yifrashewa began piano studies at the age of sixteen and eventually completed formal training at the Sofia Conservatory in Bulgaria. In the late ‘90s, he advanced beyond strict conservatory repertoire when he began composing original works, among them “The Shepherd With the Flute,” a haunting homage to the most famous work by Ethiopian composer Ashenafi Kebede (1938-1998), “The Shepherd Flutist.”

While Yifrashewa's pieces are infused with an accessibly melodic folk quality, they also evidence traces of the Romantic and Impressionist repertoires (Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, and Debussy) he favours as a performer. It would seem only natural, then, to hear a given Yifrashewa piece as a seamless fusion of European classical and Ethiopian forms. Of the three albums released prior to his Unseen Worlds set—The Shepherd with the Flute (2001), Meleya Keleme (2003), and Elilta (2005)—, it's the latter that's perhaps the natural precursor to Love and Peace, given that Elilta features exclusively Yifrashewa's own compositions, all of them based on Ethiopian traditional songs.

A thoroughly engaging set of five solo piano settings the Ethiopian composer recorded on June 9, 2013 in Brooklyn, NY, the forty-one-minute recording opens with the aforementioned “The Shepherd With the Flute.” Alternating between atmospheric introspection and stately extravagance, the lilting piece finds the composer expertly adjusting the tempo to fit the mood, his runs executed elegantly and often trilling in bird song-like manner. The Impressionist dimension in his music moves to the fore during the particularly dream-like passages within “Elilta,” its title a reference to a vocal custom by which Ethiopians express deep joy during celebratory occasions. Blues and jazz are also clearly part of the rich well from which Yifrashewa drinks, as “Chewata” memorably reveals. At disc's end, Yifrashewa performs “Ambassel,” named after a mountain in the northern part of Ethiopia plus the name for one of the four Ethiopian music scales, in a way that suggests an humble appreciation and admiration for the majesty of nature.

Adding to the recording's appeal, each of the pieces conveys a satisfying sense of completeness, and to his credit, Yifrashewa consistently opts for emotional directness over opaque remoteness. Ultimately, though, the major selling point for his music is its melodic dimension, with the five compositions exuding a musicality and lyricism that render Love and Peace all the more appealing.

July 2014