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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mulatu Astatke 

A few weeks ago I had an afternoon with not much going on. So I did what I often do on such afternoons and wandered down to the nearby locally owned and operated, independent video store and rented a movie. I then walked through my pleasant neighborhood to the local small-scale grocer, picked up some whole wheat pasta and some cilantro pesto, returned to my apartment, and boiled and tossed myself up a little snack. Then I sat down and watched Broken Flowers. The movie itself was gooder than bad, but what made it better than good was the music.

There were three tracks that repeated throughout the film that had clearly sprung from the same musical mind. One of these especially caught my ear. It hooks you immediately with layered horns that stand way out in front of the mix and set a scene somewhere between a '60s spy flick and a harem. But the moody groove that drives the song is more a product of the bed of lightly swinging drums, rhodes chords and easy guitar on which the horns sit. About 10 seconds into the song, I vowed to find out who created it and get my grubby mits on every available recording attributed to the person or persons responsible.

Yesterday, I finally got around to doing it. I used iTunes to look up the soundtrack for the movie, which is itself a pleasant selection of tunes. For some reason, one name stuck out to me on the liner notes: Mulatu Astatke. Sure enough, he's my man. So I ran a search on his name and came up with a collection called Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale (1969-1974). Every track on it was credited to Mr. Astatke. The disc is an absolute must-have.

And it turns out that this one collection is all of his music that is available digitally. Everything else he ever did was released on 45s or the odd LP that have since become something of a rarity. Until recently, that is, when he was conscripted by Miles Cleret of Soundway Records to do 10" EP, which I've now heard the samples of, is sick, and is on my order list as of...oh...now. And at least one source suggests that there may be a live recording featuring Mulatu with a few of my very favorite musicians and producers coming soon.

So my lazy afternoon watching a movie because I like Bill Murray introduced me to an icon of Ethiopian jazz. It turns out that said icon's most recent work is on a label that already peppers my record bag. Go figure. But also go listen...

UPDATE: Turns out the Soundway release is actually a re-release - remastered, I imagine - of older tunes. Doesn't change my take on it at all. It's fabulous, and really shows off the man's range of styles.

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