3160-addis.jpg

Mulatu Astatke

New York, Addis, London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Label: Strut

I first heard Mulatu Astatke’s music in Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 film Broken Flowers. Besides the few songs available on the soundtrack, Astatke’s only other CD release was an instrumental collection in Ethiopiques, a series of Ethiopian music compilations. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a vinyl copy of Mulatu of Ethiopia, a release from 1972, but until this new compilation, New York, Addis, London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975, a more diverse and comprehensive selection of his old recordings didn’t exist. This compilation is 20 tracks long, and has tracks recorded in Addis Ababa, the capital of his native Ethiopia, as well as some from London where he attended the Trinity College of Music and New York where he honed his uniquely hybridized style of “Ethio jazz” music.

In a time when Ravi Shankar was changing the face of rock ‘n’ roll with his East-meets-West sitar psychedelia, and Martin Denny was hooting and squawking in his own South Pacific lounge hybrid, Mulatu Astatke was playing musical mixologist with flavors borrowed from his Ethiopian origins and his education in contemporary Western jazz. Some tracks share qualities with Shankar’s Eastern scales and Denny’s flair for exotic sound effects, but Astatke’s music boasts a bold originality. As with Shankar and Denny, the abilities of the band members are impressive, but where Shankar hypnotizes and Denny transports to faraway beaches, Astatke grooves. His is a music that gets down and celebrates its own existence, borrowing from traditional Ethiopian music, Western jazz and even some Latin salsa rhythms, horns and group vocals in tracks like “I Faram Gami I Faram,” “Asiyo Bellema” and “Ebo Lala.” Since my previous knowledge of Astatke’s music was the instrumental Ethiopiques, I hadn’t heard his Latin-inspired music, nor had I heard any of his vocal recordings. Presumably sung in Amharic, the vocals add a new level of exotic intrigue to music that already transcends time and space.

The recordings vary in quality, but some of my favorite tracks are those with lo-fi distortion; they feel more organic and true to what Astatke’s music is about–the drums crack and thump with more intensity, the warm bass tones buzz and crackle and Astatke’s signature spacey vibraphone glimmers. “Emnete” is a top competitor for my favorite track simply because it sounds like it was recorded on the fly in a club or tiny, run-down studio and it’s clear from the band members’ whoops and hollers during the solo sections that they’re having the time of their lives. Other tracks like “Yègellé Tezeta” and “Nètsanèt” have darker, minor melodies that conjure images of midnight in the back corners of smoky, underground clubs, while “Girl from Addis Ababa” and “Ené Alantchie Alnorem” play to the lighter, more relaxed side of Astatke’s lounge style.

Available as CD or LP, New York, Addis, London is the best collection of Mulatu Astatke’s music to date. It also delivers on its title’s promise of being the “story of Ethio Jazz,” as it gives the listener a taste of everything Astatke threw into the pot when developing his signature breed of music.

by Zac Dillon
Bookmark and Share

  • Fuzz: III

    An album strictly focused on continuing the Fuzz legacy, and for some, that’s all it needs…
  • PUP: This Place Sucks Ass EP

    The EP refuses to read as a naive “we’re gonna get through this just fine” narrative, but …
  • Synchronic

    Benson and Moorhead seem equally excited by the domestic elements of the story as they are…
  • Revisit: The Squid and the Whale

    The Squid and the Whale succeeds in showing a family divided in their unity. …
  • Film Dunce: Raging Bull

    Film Dunce is a weekly series in which one of our writers finally succumbs to the lure of …
  • Revisit: Swimming to Cambodia

    Revisit: Swimming to Cambodia Dir: Jonathan Demme 85 Minutes Revisit is a series of review…
  • Fuzz: III

    An album strictly focused on continuing the Fuzz legacy, and for some, that’s all it needs…
  • PUP: This Place Sucks Ass EP

    The EP refuses to read as a naive “we’re gonna get through this just fine” narrative, but …
  • Surfer Blood: Carefree Theatre

    Carefree Theatre feels almost like catching up with old friends. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Revisit: The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale succeeds in showing a family divided in their unity. …