Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics [extended]

  • Out There [Now-Again, 2007] ***
  • Inspiration Information, Vol. 3 [Strut, 2009] A-
  • New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 [Strut, 2009] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Heliocentrics: Out There [Now-Again, 2007]
Introducing Sun Ra and Michael Henderson-era Miles to Henry Mancini and Maurice White ("Distant Star," "Joyride"). ***

Inspiration Information, Vol. 3 [Strut, 2009]
The Ethiopia-born and -steeped, U.K.- and Berklee-educated, Harvard- and M.I.T.-associated Astatke is a subtle player on vibes, keyboards and Latin percussion as well as the inventor of something he calls Ethio-jazz. He gets much respect from his largely non-Ethiopian cult, a little less from DJ Shadow drummer Malcolm Catto's band--the Heliocentrics aren't just his sidemen, and thus concoct one of those remarkable collaborations where each party compensates for the other's shortcomings. On his own, Astatke is a mite understated, musicianly and genteel; on their own, the Heliocentrics are just slightly showy, brittle and fickle. Together they play not-quite-Arab Ethiopian scales real loud, juxtapose electric guitar and one-stringed mesenqo, and groove more obstreperously than jazz deems proper. There have been other Euro-Ethio fusions--Le Tigre, Dubulah, in a way Karl Hector. This is the only one that creates a world of its own. A-

Mulatu Astatke: New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 [Strut, 2009]
Astatke's "Heliocentrics" album rules because like most fusioneers he's too interested in upward mobility to state the groove in the vulgar manner of a committed dance musician. But hear enough variations on those fermented Ethiopian scales and you'll learn to savor the piquancy of his voicings. Unlike the purely Addis Ethiopiques 4 collection, which provides eight of these 20 tracks, this overview dips into his montunos and charangas, his flute and steel drum hires, his vibraphone excursions. When I crave those scales straight I may well return to the Abyssinian source. But this is longer--and more flavorsome as well. A-

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