Monday, April 13, 2009

Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics - Album Review

OK, listen with me… tranquil soft piano keys playing for maybe fifteen seconds, soothingly melodious, you’re in a trance. At 22 seconds; you hear this gradually building, piercing sound. Is this the sound of a whistling kettle? Yes, and you’re still entranced…cue [what sounds like] a boat horn at 44 seconds accompanied by light tapping of the Congo drums. Stay with me… *drums, drums, drums, boat horn* … South African singing in the most titillating voice, right at the one minute mark. You have now entered the world of Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics via the opening track; Masenqo.

I introduce Mulatu Astatke, the Father of Ethio-jazz who has been freaking his albums for over 4 decades by geniusly merging traditional Ethiopian melodies with Jazz and Funk. Meet the Heliocentrics, “the UK’s foremost freethinking musicians” who broke the scene in 2007 with the psychedelic: funky: hip hoppy: jazzy: debut album; “Out There”. The Heliocentrics’ genre crossing musical scope is heavily influenced by James Brown and Sun Ra. Combine that with Mulatu’s Ethiojazz, and we get the 3rd of Strut’s studio collabo series; Inspiration Information. In short, be ready for the bluesy horns of the 60’s filled with sporadic, yet melodious instruments and sounds a la Sun Ra, and superb production a la Mabanua.

The album mentally takes you on a journey transcending genres, and crossing countries in such a unique way. I’m hearing instruments like the vibraphone, violin, horns, and electric guitars… but in a podcast that you can listen to HERE, I learned that they were also using Chinese cymbals & gongs, copper cooking pans, and a number of Ethiopian percussion instruments to name a few. The sound it has created will have you restarting tracks, and scratching your forehead while rocking along unknowingly.

Inspiration Information captivates by going hard with the instruments, withholding nothing. Mulatu has a 60’s era sound with the blare of the saxophones pushing through. The Thai guitar is delivering mad riffs, and the percussion instruments are creating an overall sound to make you tap your feet. Blue Nile sounds like a contemporary jam session. The tempo pushes you into the booth for a freestyle battle from the rhythmic bass and percussion. The true essence of a live band lives in this joint, if you’re in London they’ll be there in May! Chik Chikka starts on a mission to grip you. A powerful guitar rips, Mulatu stimulates the keys, and The Heliocentrics complement with wild percussion instruments. By far, my favorite track! Phantom of the Panther! If you dance…this is for you! The timbales and congo drums command you to your feet. Short pauses in between the tapping tease your senses… you’re giving all your energy as you submit to the drums unknowingly. Tambourines get your hips moving and you are officially deep in movement. Haunting chants reverberate, you close your eyes because you are now lost in the vibe. Bliss

The aforementioned songs are just my highlights of this work of art that in no way, shape, or form accurately describes the feelings you will experience. This fusion of artists creates the most magnificent international sound, and I’m still astonished that this masterpiece was created in 7 days. Get inspired! The album is to be released April 14th 2009, and is available at for preorder, you won’t regret it!

PinkBubbleGum gives this project 6 out of 7 Head Nods

Head Nod Scale
1=Don't waste your time like I did mine.
2=Waste your time like I did mine but I dare you to disagree.
3=Well, there was the single.
4=If it were a hand in spades there's "two and a possible".
5=It's a "good" album. Meaning at least 3 or 4 solid songs.
6=Really Good Project. Has the "Rewind Factor" more than once.
7=The number of completion. Great Album. Instant Classic.

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