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Mulatu Astatke – Mulatu Steps Ahead review

Artist: Mulatu Astatke
Title: Mulatu Steps Ahead
Label: Strut
Genre: Jazz
Format: 12″, CD, Digital
Buy From: Juno Records (vinyl, CD), Juno Download

Generally accepted as the father of Ethio jazz, Mulatu Astatke releases his first studio album in over twenty years through Strut. Mulatu Steps Ahead signals somewhat of a new approach for the veteran who also engages with western jazz in favour of his more familiar, native style that has made him such a pioneering artist during the 60s and 70s.

Having been making jazz music for the last 50 years, Mulatu has worked with some of the greats of the jazz world. On this album, he recorded with members of the Either/Orchestra in Boston, the Heliocentrics and some of the UK’s leading jazz and African players whilst also adding contributions by traditional Ethiopian musicians in Addis. The album follows on from the success of both the acclaimed Inspiration Information collaboration and recent Strut compilation, New York – Addis – London.

Mulatu Steps does not focus on his roots however, signified by the fact that much of it was recorded in the US. The result is a more traditional sounding jazz record than we are used to from him, although that’s not to say there is less intrigue and personality woven in. In fact, each track on the album tells its very own unique story. Opener “Radcliffe” reflects on his time as a lecturer at Harvard University, “Assosa” adapts traditional music from the Assosa tribes of north-western Ethiopia, “Mulatu’s Mood” re-works a Mulatu jazz fusion composition from the early 1990s into a new swinging Afro high life arrangement and “Derashe” deals with the traditional diminishing scales of the Derashe people of Southern Ethiopia. Although different from his previous work, Mulatu Astatke continues to keep jazz fresh, contemporary and up to date whether it’s African or American. Let’s just hope it’s not another twenty years until his next studio album.

Review: Tom Jones