Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics
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Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics
Strut Records (

You can hear the creative sparks flying on this self-titled collaboration between renowned Ethiopian instrumentalist and bandleader Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics, an innovative musical collective from the UK. The Heliocentrics backed Astatke on a rare live appearance in London in 2008 and joined him a few months later to capture in the studio some of what had worked so well on stage. It's a good thing that everyone involved (including some other London-based Ethiopian players and singers) had time and energy to spare, because the resulting CD melds Ethiopian tradition and freewheeling fusion as perfectly as Dub Colossus linked Jamaica and Ethiopia on last year's In a Town Called Addis. If you've heard any of the discs from the Ethiopiques series on Buda Musique, several of which feature Astatke's work, some of these pentatonic scale arrangements and jagged rhythms will be familiar. But that's only part of the story. There's strains of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat, Latin grooves, vintage analog effects, mysterious melodies, intros that go from kitschy to way cool and Far Eastern riffs, all wound around ear-grabbing piano, percussion, vibraphone, horns, strings, guitar, standup bass and rustic Ethiopian harp and flute. Most of the tracks are instrumentals carried along on currents of pure inspiration and musical ideas seemingly coming together on the spot but too perfectly realized to be arbitrary. It's as though everyone involved knew something special would happen and just let it flow. This disc is not really a combination of old and new; it's more an instance of the old being brilliantly expanded. -Tom Orr

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