June 23, 2009

Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics
Inspiration Information Vol. 3
Recorded at Quartermass Studios in East
London, UK

Mulatu Astatke is to Ethio Jazz what Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat. The Ethiopian born, London and Berklee College of Music-educated icon fathered the style and you can’t discuss the funky Eastern-harmony centric hybrid without him. For the third record in the Strut label’s Inspiration Information series – which features collaborations between artists and their influences – UK’s The Heliocentrics, an acid-jazz and hip-hop beat factory collective, absorb Mulatu and a handful of other Ethiopian artists into their world to produce the freshest and funkiest album of the recent past not shipping out of the Daptone Records warehouse.

If Astatke’s merger of the five-tone scale prominent in Ethiopia with American groove wasn’t genius enough, updating the style with the further experimentations in funk of the past 40 years through The Heliocentrics is straight Stephen Hawking. Elements of 1970s electric Miles Davis, The Dropper-era Medeski, Martin and Wood, and 1990s lighting jungle beats fuse perfectly with the Astatke art form. The record, produced with an analogue purity that turns the snare into a cannon and the cymbals into 30-foot ocean swells, almost tricks you into believing you’re bumping a DJ Shadow beat sculpture.

The variety of instrumentation on the collaboration keeps track after track an adventure, from the rawest violin since Wu-Tang’s “Reunited” on “Masenqo,” to the “Let Me Clear My Throat” bari sax on “Fire in the Zoo,” to traditional Ethiopian strings and flute. Astatke is a vibes and percussion player himself, adding enough layers of groove for a comfortable hike from his native deserts to the top of Kilimanjaro. (Strut Records)
-Nate Leskovic

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