Album Review: Dexter Story – Bahir [Soundway Recordings; March 2019]

A highly eclectic range of instruments are to be heard on Dexter Story’s latest LP for Soundway, Bahir. Story is a multi-instrumentalist, who has been referred to as a polymath and clearly enjoys getting immersed in music. This is a groove-laden mixing pot of styles, all simmering away while the listener devours the sounds on offer, pouring out of the speakers – sweet, almost like pouring a bottle of wine.

Bahir, Dexter Story’s website explains, means ‘Sea’ in the Semitic languages. It is a fusion of styles, mainly drawn from Sudan and Ethiopia, and has a distinct East African vibe to it. On track 4, ‘Ras’, we get a typical flavour of Ethio-jazz, which by now ought to rival its West African counterpart, afrobeat.

Wonderfully percussive beats vie with wind instruments and strings to help create a haunting sound, reminiscent of Mulatu Astatke (who, incidentally, is treated like a national hero back in Ethiopia these days, an asylum seeker from that country recently explained to me in Dublin). Indeed, for this album, Story uses the services of Ethiopian musicians, such as Hamelmal Abate, while maintaining a slick groove with a crew of LA musicians who are onboard too.

The jaunty ‘Electric Gurage’ moves the pace up a gear, while ‘Jijiga Jijiga’ – featuring Marie Daulne and Kibrom Birhane – brings the listener back to the haunting sounds which leave their mark all over Bahir. To these ears, this music heralds summer, and what better record to hear as the sun peeks outta de clouds and the temperature rises.

With 13 tracks, there’s much to feast on here. But like all good meals, a little too much can cause cramp. A shorter body of work might have more impact, keeping us wanting more. Also, the production sounds a little too polished in places. Despite these minor matters, Dexter continues to tell us his Story in fine style. One for that summer party you guys are planning. Aren’t you?