Jazz explorations of the modes, melodies and rhythms of the American trumpet player’s ancestral homeland, Eritrea
"Who Dared It", the album’s opening track, is a tribute to the city Hermon Mehari’s father grew up in, MENDEFERA. It also pays homage to the courage of this man who dared leave his native land Eritrea. He departed in 1979 in the midst of a war against Ethiopia. Arriving in Italy after a perilous journey, he met his future wife in a refugee camp located in the ‘country of the Red Sea’, and left with her for the United States, the country where Hermon was born some thirty- five years ago.
The trumpeter, trained in jazz in one of its heartlands, Kansas City, waited until the global pandemic to explore the musical aspects of his ancestral culture.
Under lockdown, alone in the Corrèze region of Southwestern France, he played with the rhythms, melodies and scales he had heard as a child, in his home and at community celebrations. The result was a track with electronic inflections featured on his previous album - "A Change for the Dreamlike".
In September 2021, during the recording of Sélène Saint-Aimé’s second album, an artist Hermon accompanies on record and on stage, Antoine Rajon suggested he compose an album entirely dedicated to his family heritage. All the tracks on ASMARA bring us back to Eritrea - a country Hermon visited only once at the age of 5. The sights, sounds and smells of this lone voyage inspired the composition "I Remember Eritrea". The only duo on the record showcases the deep musical symbiosis he maintains with long-time friend, Peter Schlamb - a pianist and vibraphonist who has worked in the USA with musicians such as Logan Richardson, Ben Van Gelder and Aaron Parks. Gautier Garrigue, a drummer who has played with Henri Texier and David Enhco, manages to claim the traditional rhythms we hear all through the album as his own, propelled by the driving basslines of double bass player Luca Fattorini - a musician from Italy now living in Paris.
Faytinga lends her vocals to two tracks. Lauded during the war of independence, where she fought, weapons in hand, she has since become one of the strongest and most popular voices in Eritrea.
"Milobe" is a lullaby recorded for French label Cobalt in 2000 and is rearranged by the trumpeter. "Tanafaqit", unfolding over a composition by Hermon, is a paeon to exile where Faytinga uses nostalgia to conjure up a motherland she has been divorced from since moving to Switzerland. Though we are familiar with Ethiopian jazz, whose tradition is long-lasting, Asmara constitutes an original experience of jazz inspired by the folklore of various Eritrean peoples. Beyond the political conflicts that oppose their leaders, the populations of these two nations claim a common and fraternal allegiance to Abyssinian culture, as expressed by Hermon on one of his compositions: "Call Me Habesha"!