Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics: 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-