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 Astatke has worked with some of the greats of the jazz world. On this album, he recorded with members of the Either/Orchestra in Boston, with members of 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 past roots however, indeed much of it was recorded in the States. The result is a more traditional sounding jazz record than we are used to from him. But that is not to say there is less intrigue and personality woven into it though. In fact, each track on the album tells its very own 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.
A two track sampler from the forthcoming album Music For Jazz Dancers, due in May on Freestyle. These two lesser known jazz dance classics come from the 'in the box' selections of DJs Adrian Gibson and Perry Louis, who have been running the Messin' Around London club session at Camden's legendary Jazz Cafe for 14 years. First track "Cherokee", by Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination & Brass, is a storming version of Ray Noble's jazz standard with Dianne Reeves' vocal delivery reminding us of Ella Fitzgerald. Next up is "Kon Djab Djigidi'" from French pianist Mario Canonges, which is a full-on piano-led, Latin-tinged monster that'll have you attempting those back flips in your Spats before you know it!
Since first pitching up on Jazzman in 2011, eight-piece psychedelic jazz combo The Greg Foat Group has caused something of a stir. This second album for the crate-digging specialists is every bit as good as their debut full length, Dark Is The Sun. At times, it sounds like Ennio Morricone and Harold Budd making loose jazz-breaks, at others an almighty freak-out in the company of Afro-busting Blaxploitation detectives. There are quietly beautiful moments ("Girl & Robot With Flowers Part 3"), straight-up late night jazz movements ("For Breath A Tarry", "Cast Adrift"), and breezy, vibraphone-heavy '60s grooves ("The Girl & Robot With Flowers Part 5"). Throughout, it's beautifully played and lovingly produced, with Foat's impeccable piano playing taking centre stage.