Samuel Yirga Quartet
Comedy Theatre, June 7
THERE'S a particular harmonic mode that evokes joy and celebration to Ethiopian ears. In the West, Samuel Yirga told us, we tend to hear it mainly in horror movies. Sure enough, there did seem to be a slight Addams Family lilt lurking between the intervals of that number, along with intrigue about the distance from here to there.
In one of his disarmingly humble asides, the young pianist from Addis Ababa made it very clear that he came as an ambassador of his country. His solemn intention to present ''all the different modes that describe Ethiopian jazz'' was expressed in frankly patriotic terms but what met the ear seemed less exotic than borderless.
You could just about see Duke Ellington's Harlem from the blues-infused classicism of his entrancing solo opening piece, Ambassel in Box Revisited.
More up-tempo accents were familiar via the now popular Afro-Cuban connection and Yirga's flights of wild abstraction always returned to melodic themes that touched the heart.
Slower movements were vividly shot with African desert sand but the most compelling notes of other-worldliness were in the liquid gold timbre of saxophonist Feleke Woldemariam. Though sparingly unleashed, his deliberate, eastern-inflected solos were thoroughly transporting.
The frantic final selection, 6 and 4, married a northern Ethiopian mode to a southern rhythm, Yirga explained, but from here, the propulsive interplay with bassist Yoseph Hailemariam Bekele and star drummer Nathaniel Zewde sounded like top-flight funk in anybody's language.