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Dexter Story: Wondem [Slipcase] *

Track List

>New Day, A
>Be My Habesha
>Without an Address
>Merkato Star
>Sidet Eskemeche
>Eastern Prayer
>Yene Konjo

Album Notes

Audio Mixer: Dexter Story.

Liner Note Author: Dexter Story.

Photographer: Ernesto Potdevin Jr.

Wondem is Dexter Story's second album as a solo artist. His first, 2012's Seasons, was a gem that highlighted his take on global soul and reflected his lifelong participation in L.A.'s sprawling, interconnected, independent music scene. A singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger, he is a founding member of the Life Force Trio, as is his co-producer here, Carlos Niño. The lineup on Wondem features a host of their regular musical partners, including Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Mark de Clive-Lowe. The album was inspired by East African, North African, and Caribbean music, all sifted through modern L.A. soul, funk, and jazz. Story is everywhere, singing, playing keyboards, percussion, guitars, basses, etc. His arrangements are easy on the ears; they cordially invite the listener into his brand of global fusion on their own terms. While first single "Lalibela," with Ethiopian vocalist Yared Teshale, may not seem an obvious pick for that distinction, it is one of Wondem's most satisfying tracks. It's indicative of the sonic adventure Story puts on offer throughout. There are mysterious, hypnotic layers of warm keyboards and circular drumming amid the chant-like singing and it's tempered with a soulful saxophone break that adds an Addis Ababa touch (à la Mulatu Astatke). "A New Day" stitches together Memphis and West Coast soul with an Ethiopian country rhythm (called "wolayta") amid analog Moogs, call-and-response vocal choruses, and joyous handclaps. It's the set opener and an obvious dancefloor entry. "Without an Address" features a guest appearance by expatriate Sudanese singer Alsarah. Gritty Nigerian-style guitars, polyrhythmic handclaps, fat baritone saxophone, kora, and a whomping bassline create an enormous palette of textures that Alsarah hovers around and through. Syncopated handclaps, slightly dissonant, jazzy brass, and wonky keyboards on "Merkato Star" pose quizzical juxtapositions until a pulse-like rhythmic vamp -- from drums, bass, and reeds -- kicks in to drive a strident vocal chant. An improvising Wurlitzer (that sounds like it came from Alice Coltrane's Transfiguration album) adds a frenzied intensity. "Xamar," a fingerpopping instrumental, stands in sharp contrast to everything else. It provides an East African view of '70s jazz-funk with trippy guitars, keyboards, and hard-popping hand drums. Nia Andrews' sweet voice graces "Eastern Prayer" atop Story's. The haunting, seductive melody is framed by Trinidadian steel drums, Afro-Cuban congas, and West African kalimbas and soulful highlife guitars. On closer "Yene Konjo," Clive-Lowe's keyboards -- harmonium, organ, and electric piano -- weave a series of modal figures around Story's gentle vocal in a tender, romantic, spiritual soul tune. Being adventurous isn't a requirement for enjoying Wondem; it offers pleasure, subtlety, grace, and groove in virtually every track. As a solo artist, Story has been hitting his stride in L.A. for a few years now; it's time that we caught up with him and this album is an excellent opportunity. ~ Thom Jurek


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