Mulatu Astatke + The Heliocentrics
The third issue in Strut Record’s Inspiration Information, which pairs two artists together for one album, might be the best pairing in the series.
The combination of UK-based psychedelic jazz futurists The Heliocentrics and Ethopian Jazz God Mulatu Astatke just works. Comigng off of an uneven collaboration with Sly & Robbie and Amp Fiddler, the latest CD gets two people who come from the same love of jazz, and were almost meant to be in the room together.
If you don’t know, Mulatu Astatke combined American jazz with his native African sounds in the 60s and 70s, and is the leader of the Ethio-jazz movement, a sound characterized by its soulful Rhodes pianos and dusty horns. Even though he’s been in the game for over 30 years, his music only recently entered the popular consciousness, thanks to that movie Broken Flowers which used Astatke’s music extensively.
Mulatu Astatke + The Heliocentrics – Esketa Dance
The CD itself doesn’t stray far from Astatke’s previous work. The Heliocentrics act as Astatke’s back-up band on a majority of the tracks on the disc, especially on songs like “Phantom of the Panter,” and “Esketa Dance,” and “Dewel,” which showcase the trademark Ethiopian Jazz sound. The tracks that have more input from the The Heliocentrics don’t fare as well, with the lead single, “Masengo,” trying to blend too many genres (jazz, hip-hop, and ethnic) and falling flat in the process. The collaboration excels, however, on “Blue Nile,” an loungy, guitar driven instrumental, and the epic “Anglo Ethio Suite,” a psychedelic jazz track that runs over 9 minutes long, and harkens back to the time of Mile’s Davis’ extended jazz narratives from back in the day.
Mulatu Astatke + The Heliocentrics – Masengo
For all of it’s strengths and weaknesses, Inspiration Information is a well crafted album. I found myself listening to it from start to finish on the train to work every morning without the slightest urge to skip a track. How many albums can you say evoke that feeling in today’s world?