Album Pick: Afro-Zen Allstars’ “The Buzz and the Bells”

The latest, just in time for last-minute shopping or downloading, Afro-Zen Allstars release comes with a cryptic title and a thick slice of Ethiopian music, as well as “some stuff from Cameroon, Mali and Nigeria (by way of Brooklyn) to spice things up” as they note on their website.

The band’s sound centers on the all-too-brief fusion music scene in 1970s Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital and commercial hub. Afro-Zen forges that “golden age” mash-up of funk, jazz, and Northeast African pentatonic modal music into something at once exotic and approachable. Sinuous guitars and full-bodied saxophones solo over a deep, danceable groove.

Recorded at Minimum Wage Recording by Lance Koehler, it’s all laid down by several of the area’s most adventurous musicians: the great Hector “Coco” Barez and Jeff X. Morris on percussion, Scott Milsted on drum kit, Brian Cruise on bass, John Lilley and Chris Sclafani on saxes, Toby Whittaker on trombone, and Chris Vasi on lead guitar. Band leader/guitarist George M. Lowe arranges all of the pieces with abundant space for his bandmates to stand out amid the hypnotic whirl of moving parts. Whether floating on the undulating melodic surface or diving into the rhythmic crosscurrents, this is music that takes you somewhere.

Afro-Zen Allstars will have a CD release party at Hardywood RVA on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. This is a JAMinc show and you can find the purchase link here.

To learn more about the band, visit their website at

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