Untitled Compositions

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

Mulatu Astatke New York – Addis – London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (Album Review)

"Music is the native tongue of humanity. It is a language that we all speak. As a vernacular of sorts, music is one of the most enticing, yet overlooked vehicles for the art of storytelling. Through methods of form and function, this particular medium can tacitly chronicle a tale with the profundity of a thousand writers. New York-Addis-London does just that. A history lesson set to jazzy melodies and African rhythms, this compilation traces the contours of a musical movement that can never be replaced. Through the lens of Mulatu Astatke, the audience is given an introduction to the distinct sounds which encapsulated a force so monumental that it could only be stopped by political upheaval. Despite having an initial run of ten years, Ethio-jazz left its mark on not only the rich African musical tradition, but that of the entire world. This is the story of how it all began.

The story begins like any other. Through the melodious orchestra of horns and steady pacing, “Yèkèrmo Sèw,” introduces the opening scenes of this narrative with a comfortable still. Naturally, the audience is gradually familiarized with the setting. This, however, is nothing more than a façade. Underneath this graceful composure lies the ominous wailing of a guitar. It is not overwhelming, but most certainly lets its presence be known. This is the calm before the storm.

As the action progresses, we watch American influence of funk sensibilities make its way to Ethiopia on “Mulatu.” Using a mixture of combating horn instruments and a dash of the vibraphone, this song sits comfortably amongst the American musical aesthetics of the 60s and 70s. On this track, Astatke manages to borrow the technical features of funk and reclaim it for an Ethiopian audience. The story moves forward…” 

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For The Revivalist

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

Next Stop Soweto Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers And Makers- Jazz In South Africa 1963-1984 (Album Review)

"Some of the most captivating works of art have been produced under the cloak of austerity. These pieces often serve as portraits of beauty amongst the sordid reality of life. Therapeutically, the creation of art is a way of self-medication, serving the architect as a means of release. Like “the rose that grew from concrete,” splendor ascended from the depths of a troubled political landscape in South Africa. Highlighting this is the third installment of the Next Stop…Soweto series presented by Strut Records.

This amalgamation of South African sounds, covering the years 1963 to 1978, represents the consolidation of many gifted artists. That is its superficial value. More than that, however, this collection provides a historical introspection to individuals who created in a radically different era. We give praise to those who took their talents elsewhere, but it is simply that much more astounding to recognize and reevaluate the artistry of those who never left the homeland.

Sonically, when attempting to understand this album, it is fairly obvious that South Africa was home to myriad blends of jazz throughout this particular period. I was instantly drawn to the diversity of those artists highlighted. Not being relegated to a specific sound, a healthy and eclectic pool of ideas were conjured up by its resident musicians in a time during which jazz was at its most exploratory.

The album begins “Ngena Mntan’ am” by De Ministers. The song features a moderately-paced cool jazz style comfortably injected with traditional lyricism. With such a vocal performance, it is the perfect introduction as it is identifiably of the African diaspora. Instantaneously, the mood transitions with the funk-infused guitar rhythms of Skyf and their composition “Be There.” The song is anchored by a polyrhythmic horn section that truly gives it shape…” 

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For The Revivalist

Ikebe Shakedown - Ikebe Shakedown (Album Review)

"I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of Ikebe Shakedown. Not being familiar with the group, my only point of reference were such buzzwords as “funk,” “Afrobeat,” and “revival;” the last of these being the most telling. A popular treatment by contemporary artists is the reappropriation of past fashions. More often than not, the attempts of said artists fall haphazardly into a contrived pool of clichés. The sound would come off more forced than felt. Simply put, I’ve learned that in music, it is usually best to leave the past in the past. This was my line of thinking going into my first listening session of the group’s self-titled debut. Several listens later, I realized that Ikebe Shakedown wasn’t faking the funk.

The minute I pressed play, I was overwhelmed by what I was hearing. As an enthusiast of the Blaxploitation film genre, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was listening to a modern day soundtrack from the likes of Curtis Mayfield or Willie Hutch. The album carries a certain soulful grit; so much so that it’s easy to get lost in present-day reality. “Is this seriously from 2011?” I often wondered. You see, at its core, Ikebe Shakedown isn’t trying to be funk. It just is. This isn’t a careless cover job attempting to evoke the soulful appeal of former genres. It’s an honest step back in time. What Ikebe Shakedown has managed to do, in their first major release, is something that modern artists have been attempting to capture for quite some time – authenticity of past sounds.”

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For The Revivalist

Jimi Tenor/Tony Allen - Inspiration Information, Vol. 4 (Album Review)

The marriage of Jimi Tenor and Tony Allen is mired in eccentricities. Tenor is a Finnish musician whose sound has been defined as everything from funk to fusion, and perhaps most accurately avant-garde. His career trajectory has led him to explore a whirlwind of mediums leaving his listeners unsure of where exactly he will go next. Allen, a Nigerian born musician may have a substantially more specific approach than Tenor, but that does not affect his position as one of the greatest living artists in the world. His compositional work and drumming led to the birth of the entire Afrobeat movement, a groundbreaking genre of music birthed out of the African diaspora.

The intriguing and dynamic pedigrees of the two aforementioned artists may leave one confused as to why exactly they would come together. Although lying in a bed of disconnect, these individuals most certainly carry an elevated understanding of musical complexities. And with that, we are given the 2009 releaseInspiration Information, Vol. 4…”

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For The Revivalist