Untitled Compositions

"...compository sketches..." - S. Scott Franklin

Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics - Inspiration Information 3 (Album Review)

"As an innovator, Mulatu Astatke is far removed from simplicity. Fathering the Ethio-jazz movement, the well-traveled African artisan fused jazz and latin music with the traditional sounds of his native Ethiopia. Needless to say, Astatke is no stranger to hybridity. However, I would argue that this was his most compelling collaboration to date. He wasn’t working with Duke Ellington nor Mahmoud Ahmed, all of which he has done in the past and with great results. Instead, he chose to stand alongside a band known for its inability to be properly placed. Coming from the eclectically rich independent label, Stones Throw Records, The Heliocentrics have taken their identity to the outskirts of seemingly every conceivable boundary. With unimaginable dexterity, the Heliocentrics shifted their technical guile to yet another sound; those emanating out of East Africa.

The resulting musical clash led to the third installment of Strut Records’ amalgamation series, Inspiration Information. Recorded in East London, the album features sounds reminiscent of the older Astatke flair, all the while maintaining a distinct peculiarity due largely in part to the experimental nature of the Heliocentrics. For this adventure, Astatke and the Heliocentrics equally shared compositional duties, providing the album with its unique juxtaposition of sounds – traditional and avant-garde. For many artists, this would be a complicated endeavor. In this instance, however, a mutual respect occasioned an end product of wide-reaching artistry.

Inconspicuously, the album is introduced with a lone pianist. But, with greater assurance, “Masengo” begins to build. It starts with a synthetic screech, which atop the pianist’s melody induces haunting overtures. And as this settles into place, we are presented with the addition of a guitarist, whose introduction is as quick as its exit. Almost instantaneously, the song makes a complete shift into an ethnic array of singing and drumming. But again, we are lulled into a level of comfort only to see the reemergence of the guitarist as he plays aggressively atop those same drums. With lightening quickness, we again hear the screeches, and eventually the reasserted dominance of that earlier pianist. With the addition of both a tambourine player and a string section, we are privy to a symphony of conflicting sound culminating in an aggregate sort of genius. This is only track 1…”

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For The Revivalist