Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu Steps Ahead (Strut)

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Mulatu Astatke: Green Africa
Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu Steps Ahead (Strut)

This transplanted jazz musician from Ethiopia (vibes/keyboards) has been one of the major (re)discoveries of the past few years. His ascent continues on this album which drifts to life on the airy, almost ambient opener where muted trumpet pokes over long and languid horn lines to create a post-Kind of Blue dreamscape.

Then it springs up a step or two with Green Africa with oddly repetitive scraped strings and percussion which reminds of the much overlooked Euro-Afro experiment Bitter Funeral Beer by Bengt Berger, Don Cherry and others on ECM in '82 (which drew on tribal rhythms from Ghana) - before it heads of into a swinging Ellington/Mingus territory.

Here with the Either/Orchestra, the Heliocentrics (who appeared on his Best of Elsewhere 2009 album Inspiration Information) and various African musicians, Astatke is allowed a wide palette to explore.

So he makes the most of it: he throws a nod to the James Bond theme in the cool-than-thou sophistication of The Way to Nice; in other places he defers to Sun Ra as previously; there is a lovely langour to Mulatu's Mood; Ethio's Blues brings hints of the folk style of his country into an Ellington ballad where his gentle vibes hypnotize . . . 

Mulatu Astatke is at quite a late-career high plateau and this album deserves serious attention if exploratory contemporary jazz with an ear to history means anything to you.  

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