Mulatu Astatke – Sketches Of Ethiopia – Unique, playful album from African jazz pioneer

Ethiopian musician and conductor Mulatu Astatke takes his original combination of jazz, Latin, and traditional Ethiopian influences for the latest soundtrack to his homeland, Sketches Of Ethiopia.

Mulatu Astatke, best known as the pioneer of Ethio-jazz is celebrated for his unique styles and bringing customary Ethiopian music to a contemporary culture through his use of vibraphones, organs, and congas.

During the 70s his audience expanded as he collaborated with many artists including Mahmoud Ahmed and Duke Ellington, later gaining a wider Western audience when seven of Astatke’s songs found their way onto Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 film ‘Broken Flowers’. Samples of Astatke’s music can now be heard by artists as varied as Kanye West, Nas and Cut Chemist.

Album opener ‘Azmari’ instantly transports you to the dusty lands of Western Ethiopia through its hypnotic rhythms and trumpet bursts. ‘Gamo’ (first single to be released), and ‘Gambella’ see guest Tesfaye reach electric frequencies as he maneuvers through various pitches, while ‘Gamo’ features the soulful jazz saxophone ‘Gambella’ draws you in through its harmonious Latin percussive grooves.

Astatke’s vast musicality can be heard not only in his idyllic production qualities and colourful arrangements but also in his instrumentation. From the gently chiming vibes of ‘Hager Fiker’ and ‘Gumuz’, through to the conga rhythms of ‘Assosa Derache’, which transcends into energetic piano jazz funk reminiscent of Miles Davies.

The album adds further colour to its already blooming palette with the melancholy ‘Motherland Abay’, through a descending flute section and haunting cello. The seductive Afro funk rhythms of closing track ‘Surma’ capture the blissful mood with the joyous harmonies of guest singer Fatoumata Diawara.

Part of Sketches Of Ethiopia’s charm is the broad use of instrumentation, including the masinko, a single bowed lute, and the antique krar. Creating a journey through the unknown, so even listeners less familiar to the genre will find themselves intrigued and drawn into the music.

Sketches Of Ethiopia is the first album Astatke has released for his new musical home Jazz Village. Managing to evoke a wide range of emotions through a colourful use of timbre, while always keeping a playful nature, Sketches Of Ethiopia sees Mulatu Astatke build upon his abundant and rich musical career, bridging the gap between Western and Eastern music.

More information from www.mulatu-astatke.com

words Alan Byatt

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