In the liner notes for Ethiopiques Vol. 4, Mulatu Astatqe, the chief arranger of the album, is referred to as "...atypical, totally unique (and ) a legend unto himself." Part of what made Astatqe so different was his musical training in the United States, which led him to play and arrange instrumental music back in Ethiopia; an anomaly in traditional, and even modern Ethiopian music styles.
Astatqe led his musicians, configured in combos consisting of keyboards, tenor sax, flute, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums, through funk-powered, Afro-Latin jazz-influenced soul instrumentals. The sax leads on Vol. 4 flow in a late-period Coltrane vein, laden with cosmic menace, while the guitar leads often sound like they could be at home in a Grateful Dead/San Francisco psychedelic rock jam. But the melodies, especially the sax and flute, are at their core, Ethiopian. These modes, with a sound that straddles Africa and the Middle East, lend the jazz/funk/soul tunes on the album an undeniable, haunting quality.
Vol. 4 is part of a five volume series that takes an in-depth look at Ethiopian music styles. The packages are put together well, with extensive liner notes and good color photos. - Rob Seiden