Mulatu Astatke – New York – Addis – London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975

January 01, 1970

(Strut
Records)

 

www.strut-records.com

 

The
unearthing and compiling of hidden wonders of world jazz and funk takes a huge
step forward with the release of  The
Story of Ethio Jazz,
a long-overdue collection of twenty tracks by the
fabulous Ethiopian band leader, vibraphone and keyboard player and arranger
Mulatu Astatke. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying collection of tracks
emerging out of the vaults of African music anytime soon, although we can
always hope…

 

The twenty
tracks, recorded between 1965 and 1975, are a marvel of hybridization. Although
this is billed as jazz, it’s really a mash-up several styles of jazz, including
Latin and free jazz, traditional and contemporary Ethiopian music circa mid 60s
to mid 70s, rock, psych, calypso, Afro-Cuban, highlife and traces of roots
reggae and Afro-ska. Astatke’s genre mashing wasn’t a fluke; he studied, played
and recorded  music in London,
Wales and the U.S. (he was the first African student at the
Berklee School of Music) before returning to Addis, Ethiopia,
in the late 60s and becoming one of the key figures in a remarkably fertile
time in Ethiopian music. If there was ever 
a right man at the right place at the right time it was Mulatu Astatke.

 

The first
several tracks are a rough template for most of what follows. “Yekermo Sew”
starts us off with a funky fusion of horns, electric piano, shifting grooves
and reggae-styled drumming, all suddenly blasted into another dimension by a
fuzzed-out electric guitar. “I Faram Gami I Faram” fuses Latin jazz and
traditional Ethiopian grooves. The show-stopper “Emnete” from 1964-65 is the
oldest track and one of the most arresting; its almost ska-like shuffle beat is
framed by honking horns, the buzzing of unknown percussion instruments and what
sounds like the braying of an elephant. The gorgeous “Mulatu” is Miles Davis
styled space jazz, Bitch’s Brew directly from the source in Africa with shimmering electric piano, funky guitar and
soaring flutes and who knows what else. The organ-driven “Yegelle Tezeta” could
pass for one of Lee Perry’s early instrumentals, while “Asiyo Belema” is a
smooth, Calypsoish number. Elsewhere “Ebo Lala” is an Afro-orchestra dance
number, “Dewel” is an Ethio take on free jazz, and the languid funk jazz of
“Netsanet” has the funky guitar and bass of classic early 70s tracks from
around the world. Some tracks feature vocals of one kind or another, although
the majority are instrumentals. Astatke’s playing is subtle and tasteful
throughout, especially on the electric piano, and his arrangements are the
stuff of legend.

 

 

Anyone
that appreciates Miles Davis’ and Pharaoh Sanders’ classic 70s sides, Art
Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, experimental Latin jazz, psych-jazz etc. should
immediately seek out The Story of Ethio Jazz and settle into an
embarrassment of riches. Just be prepared to have it parked in your CD player
for awhile.

 

STANDOUT TRACKS: “Emnete,” “Dewel,” “Mulatu,” Yekermo Sew,” “Ebo Lala.” CARL HANNI

 

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