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Highlife veteran Gyedu‑Blay Ambolley reinterprets classics

Thirty-fifth album and counting, the 75-year-old musician is about to release yet another record, Hi-life Jazz, in which he revisits works by John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis.

Born in 1947, ten years before Ghana’s independence, Gyedu‑Blay Ambolley has lived throughout the highlife craze. While a member of the Uhuru Dance Band, he developed his signature Simigwa-do style alongside Ebo Taylor and Sammy Larteh with whom he shared the stage. Yet, the highlife legend didn’t stop there and continues to cultivate his impressive catalogue. Hi-Life Jazz will be his 35th album to date released via the German Agogo label.

For this latest project, Gyedu‑Blay Ambolley has chosen to embrace his love of Afro-soul and admiration for well-known jazz figures. In the nine-track album, he provides both reinterpretation of old classics and brand new compositions where he blends together Afro-American jazz, soul and funk with Ghanaian highlife, enhanced by his signature Simigwa style and powered by polyrhythms.

In the first three tracks, “Sankumagye”, “Yekor Ye A Yeaba” and “Enyidado”, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley showcases deep tonal and vocal interventions, mixing Afro-soul and groove: a most-fitting way to set the tone for the rest of the album. The following tracks are reinterpretations of titles by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis, in which Gyedu-Blay Ambolley stays true to the original while adding a Ghanain touch and allowing himself to play freely with the rhythm. It’s especially true in “Love Is Supreme” inspired by Coltrane’s track of the same name, in which Ambolley adds a joyous swing which deeply changes the overall tone. A wonderful way to rediscover jazz staples.

Hi-Life Jazz out October 7th via Agogo.

Listen to “Round Midnite” in our Songs of the Week playlist.