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Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu Steps Ahead

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Rating: 4/5
Verdict: A laid-back yet steely stunner from Ethiopian jazz man.

Right from the sprawling serenity of opening track, Radcliffe, with its beautifully muzzled brass, and delicate vibes (as in vibraphone), you know you're in for something special from Mulatu Astatke. The 67-year-old Ethiopian multi-instrumentalist and composer is renowned as the "Father of Ethio-jazz", a style of music merging Western jazz and traditional Ethiopian sounds that he pioneered and developed during the 60s and 70s. Put simply, he's the Miles Davis-meets-Milt Jackson of Ethiopia.

Some of Astatke's older music was used in - and popularised by - Jim Jarmusch's off-beat film Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray in 2005. But this album is all new tracks and it's delightfully laid-back while still being gritty and authentic.

The Way To Nice mooches and shuffles along suavely like The Girl From Ipanema coming up against a sinister sounding Bond theme and Mulatu's Mood is a little more relaxed but just as instinctive as something like Monk's Dream.

Meanwhile, I Faram Gami I Faram and Boogaloo (both new versions of Astatke classics) take a more traditional tangent with the former an incessant and unruly mantra that somehow sounds cohesive, and the latter a stylish and smooth tune with some wild kora playing that makes it sound old-school.

This is a man at the height of his playing and composing powers - for the simple reason that it all sounds so effortless and pure. There are rumours he will be playing here later in the year - and if this enchanting collection of songs is anything to go by, then don't miss it.

- NZ Herald

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