Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Anglo Ethio Suite

Mulatu Astatke &
the Heliocentrics, Inspiration
Information, Strut

Egyptian bandleader and vibe player
Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopiques 4) joins
forces with Stones Throw house band
the Heliocentrics (Out There) for
this amazing jazz-funk throwdown.

In their career, the British nine-piece has also backed DJ Sha-
dow, Madlib, and Melvin Van Peebles, while Astatke (or Astat-
qé) found a new audience when Jim Jarmusch sprinkled selec-
tions from his repertoire throughout 2005's Broken Flowers.

If Inspiration Information, which isn't to be confused with
the fabulous Shuggie Otis record of the same name, doesn't make
you tap your feet or nod your head, you might want to check your
pulse. But if it does put a little glide in your stride, Out There is
just as essential. As well as Otis's 1971 LP, which introduced the
world to the haunting psych-soul of "Strawberry Letter 23."

Inspiration is one of the few
recordings of recent vintage
that can be enjoyed by peop-
le of all ages and all tastes
(and in this case, a guy in his
late 60s has teamed up with
a gang in their 30s). Worldbeat
tends to attract a limited audience, at least in the US, but
it's hard to imagine many open-minded music listeners who
wouldn't enjoy this set if they were simply exposed to it.

It's often said that the films of Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, and
Pixar travel well, because the visuals do so much of the heavy
lifting. Whether viewers understand the language or the sub-
titles, the characters are interesting, their actions intriguing.

Music can and does travel in similar ways. In that sense, the al-
bum reminds me of Getz/Gilberto, which broke Brazilian music
in the States. In this case, there's no potential pop hit, like "The
Girl from Ipanema," but nor are there any (foreign) lyrics.

By placing too much emphasis
on accessibility, however, I
risk selling Inspiration
short, implying that the two
acts were going for the gold,
when I suspect they were
simply going for the groove.
There's nothing calculated a-
bout this effort. In fact, it's hard to figure out how to classify it, since they cross geographic and cultural borders with ease.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm listening to the JBs on a bender, a
lost Blaxploitation score, or a buried Blue Note treasure. At
other times, it's as if I fell asleep in today's America only to
wake up in yesterday's Morocco—or even outer space.

Truth is, I rarely write about instrumental music, soundtracks
aside, because I don't have much of a vocabulary for it. I just
know that this CD is the best possible way.

I can play these 14 tracks over and over again, and never tire
of a single one. They work for any time of the day, any occasion,
and any mood. I can't stand hyperbole, so I try to avoid it, but
Inspiration Information is truly one for the ages.

Endnote: Images from Jazz Atelier, RBMA Radio, and

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