Posted: April 21st, 2009
If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Astatke was heavily featured on the Ethiopiques album series (Volume IV is always on heavy rotation during the summer months here at musthear.com HQ). The third record in Strut’s “Inspiration Information” studio collaboration series features a pairing between one of Africa’s great bandleaders, Mulatu Astatke, with the British-based Heliocentrics collective.
Fortunately, this is one “old meets new” project that truly captures the sound of mutual respect. One of Ethiopia’s foremost musical ambassadors, Astatke (he was the first African student at Berklee College of Music) helped create a particular Ethio-jazz sound that flourished during the “Swinging Addis” era of the late ‘60s. No slouches themselves, The Heliocentrics have become one of the UK’s most prominent collectives of musicians, inspired by everyone from Sun Ra and James Brown to David Axelrod.
It’s the rare group of musicians who can put together an album this good in a mere ten days.
“Masenqo” opens up with Astatke alone at the piano before a sudden burst of fuzzy guitars, Afrobeat percussion and ethereal vocals. (A masenqo is a single-string violin used by Ethiopian azmaris (“singer” in Amharic). “Cha Cha” deepens the groove: in four minutes and thirty-five seconds you’ve arrived in the swinging Addis of the 70s. Each song seems to build upon the previous track. Funky flute, complex rhythms, horns and strings all come out to play. By the time I got to “Dewel,” I had decided to learn Amharic. The musicians’ true talent lies in marshaling all of this talent without losing sight of the hard groove. The album coheres in a way that few do–it’s a rare new release that I can listen to all the way through these days. Astatke sounds like he’s only gotten better with age. At 65, he’s put out a record that keeps his sound fresh without compromising the vibe that made it so astounding in the first place. For all its mind-blowing diversity, Inspiration Information Volume 3 isn’t a challenging record–and that’s the best thing about it.
Here’s a digital promo of album via Strut’s site.
You can also download a free podcast featuring Astatke discussing the record here.
- Mulatu Astatke – Piano
- Malcolm Catto – Drums and Piano
- Jake Ferguson – bass and Thai guitar
- Mike Burnham – Modular Synth and Effects
- Jack Yglesias – Flutes, Percussion and Santur
- Adrian Owusu – Guitars, Oud, and Percussion
- James Arben – Clarinet, Tenor and Baritone Sax
- Ray Carless – Alto, Tenor and Baritone Sax
- Max Weissenfeldt – Vibes and Percussion
- Cha Cha
- Addis Black Wido
- Blue Nile
- Esketa Dance
- Chik Chikka
- Live From Tigre Lounge
- Chinese New Year
- Phantom of the Panther/li>
- Fire in the Zoo
- An Epic Story
- Anglo Ethio Suite