Mulatu Astatke is the father of Ethio Jazz, in this writers opinion one of the most amazing living composers. His vibraphone, conga and various other percussion playing was a real highlight throughout Ethiopiques series, his unique fusion of jazz, funk, latin and African rhythms nothing short of inspired. He’s played with Duke Ellington, had his music in the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers and earlier this year offered up a funky as hell collaboration with UK rare groove merchants the Helliocentrics.
Yet this compilation demonstrates why he is so revered. It opens with possibly his most famous piece, the ultra slinky Yekermo Sew, a cool jazzy beast with one of the longest melody lines this side of Ravel’s bolero. The tune is just so cool, so infectious seemingly without trying that his reputation would be secure on this track alone. Yet the album is brimming with inspired coolness. On the second piece I Faram Gami I Faram he takes a total left turn and comes out with a distinctively Cuban feel to his music, though on the third Emete the horns sound honky like some kind of lively noir juke joint, playing a loose mischievous sound that is brimming with possibilities. And that’s just the first three of twenty pieces, and they’re all amazing, with this loose ramshackle feel that does a disservice to him as it hides the complexity and compositional care.
It’s impossible to get an unbiased review from this writer about Mulatu Astatke. He is one of the masters, and this collection ably demonstrates why.