Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet – Afro Latin Soul (1966)

FrontCover1Mulatu Astatke (born 19 December 1943) is an Ethiopian musician and arranger considered as the father of Ethio-jazz.

Born in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma, Mulatu was musically trained in London, New York City, and Boston where he combined his jazz and Latin music interests with traditional Ethiopian music. Astatke led his band while playing vibraphone and conga drums—instruments that he introduced into Ethiopian popular music—as well as other percussion instruments, keyboards, and organ. His albums focus primarily on instrumental music, and Mulatu appears on all three known albums of instrumentals that were released during Ethiopian Golden 1970s.

Mulatu’s family sent the young Mulatu to learn engineering in Wales during the late 1950s. Instead, he began his education at Lindisfarne College near Wrexham before earning a degree in music through studies at the Trinity College of Music in London. He collaborated with jazz vocalist and percussionist Frank Holder. In the 1960s, Mulatu moved to the United States to enroll at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He studied vibraphone and percussion.

While living in the U.S., Mulatu became interested in Latin jazz and recorded his first two albums, Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1 & 2, in New York City in 1966. The records prominently feature Mulatu’s vibraphone, backed by piano and congas playing Latin rhythms, and were entirely instrumental with the exception of the song “I Faram Gami I Faram,” which was sung in Spanish.

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In the early 1970s, Mulatu brought his new sound, which he called Ethio-jazz, back to his homeland while continuing to work in the U.S. He collaborated with many notable artists in both countries, arranging and playing on recordings by Mahmoud Ahmed, and appearing as a special guest with Duke Ellington and his band during a tour of Ethiopia in 1973.

Mulatu recorded Mulatu of Ethiopia (1972) in New York City, but most of his music was released by Amha Eshete’s label Amha Records in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, including several singles, his album Yekatit Ethio Jazz (1974), and six out of the ten tracks on the compilation album Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits. Yekatit Ethio Jazz combined traditional Ethiopian music with American jazz, funk, and soul.

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By 1975, Amha Records had ceased production after the Derg military junta forced the label’s owner to flee the country. Mulatu remained to play vibes for Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band’s 1977 album Tche Belew (which included “Musicawi Silt”) before the Wallas also left Ethiopia to tour internationally. By the 1980s, Mulatu’s music was largely forgotten outside of his homeland.

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In the early 1990s, many record collectors rediscovered the music of Mulatu Astatke and were combing stashes of vinyl for copies of his 70s releases. In 1998, the Parisian record label Buda Musique began to reissue many of the Amha-era Ethio-jazz recordings on compact disc as part of the series Éthiopiques, and the first of these reissues to be dedicated to a single musician was Éthiopiques Volume 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969–1974. The album brought Mulatu’s music to an international audience.

Mulatu’s music has had an influence on other musicians from the Horn region, such as K’naan. His Western audience increased when the Broken Flowers (2005) directed by Jim Jarmusch film seven of his songs, including one performed by Cambodian-American rock band Dengue Fever. National Public Radio used his instrumentals as beds under or between pieces, notably on the program This American Life. Samples of his were used by Nas, Damian Marley, Kanye West, Cut Chemist, Quantic, Madlib, and Oddisee.

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After meeting the Massachusetts-based Either/Orchestra in Addis Ababa in 2004, Mulatu began a collaboration with the band beginning with performances in Scandinavia in summer 2006 and London, New York, Germany, Holland, Glastonbury (UK), Dublin, and Toronto in 2008. In the fall of 2008, he collaborated with the London-based collective The Heliocentrics on the album Inspiration Information Vol. 3, which included re-workings of his Ethio-jazz classics with new material by the Heliocentrics and himself.
Mulatu performs with Black Jesus Experience members Chris Frangou (bass) and Liam Monkhouse (MC) in Addis Ababa in 2015.

In 2008, he completed a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University where he worked on modernization of traditional Ethiopian instruments and premiered a portion of a new opera, The Yared Opera. He served as an Abramowitz Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, giving lectures and workshops and advising MIT Media Lab on creating a modern version of the krar, a traditional Ethiopian instrument.

On 1 February 2009, Mulatu performed at the Luckman Auditorium in Los Angeles with a band that included Bennie Maupin, Azar Lawrence, and Phil Ranelin. He released a two-disc compilation album to be sold exclusively to passengers of Ethiopian Airlines, with the first disc containing a compilation of styles from different regions of Ethiopia and the second consisting of studio originals. On 12 May 2012, he received an honorary doctor of music degree from the Berklee College of Music.

In 2015, Mulatu began recording with Black Jesus Experience for Cradle of Humanity, which premiered at the Melbourne Jazz Festival in 2016 and was followed by a tour of Australia and New Zealand. (by wikipedia)

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A few years ago, a friend of mine bought me this record for my birthday. My friend knew I had never heard of Mulatu Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet, but because she used to live with me, knew all about my love for Jazz, Mexicali Brass, Latin Jazz and Afro Funk. In hindsight, she couldn’t really go wrong with this gift, it’s obvious that I would love it and with no surprise at all, I instantly fell in love with this album.

Mulatu Astatke, who was born in 1943 in Ethiopia, is known as the father of Ethio-Jazz. His album, Afro-Latin Soul was recorded in Brooklyn, NYC and was released in 1966 on Worthy Records. This album is almost a 50 year old creation, which speaks volumes to its quality and significance and to the fact that it can still be enjoyed today. If you’ve seen Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray, you’ll be a bit familiar with Mr. Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet, as their music is found on the majority of the soundtrack and even features three songs off Afro-Latin Soul. I especially like the album art of the record, it’s simple yet eye catching and the informative commentary found on the back of the record sleeve is short and sweet!

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“[…] Mulatu a multi-talented musician, composer and arranger, has created a new sound “Afro-Latin Soul”. He has taken the ancient five-tone scale of Asia and Africa and woven them into something unique and exciting; a mixture of three cultures, Ethiopian, Puerto Rican and American.

Mulatu has brought to America a pulsating dance, called the “Skista”. Wherever he plays the “Skista”, it becomes an immediate craze. Louis Rodriguez, the singer, gives a magnificent interpretation in Spanish of an Ethiopian Skista with “I Faram Gami I Faram”.

During the Session, Mulatu masterfully jumps from vibes to piano to drums. Rudy Houston switches from piano to trumpet to give a soul-stirring rendition of a haunting melody. Felix Torres and John Perez, keep up an exciting conga and bongo background along with the real boss bass of Robert Cuadrado and the tremendous tymbali work of Tony Pearson.

This album is one you will always treasure. (by Gil Snapper)

So if you’re like me and felt genuinely offended by this week’s Montreal Weather Network temperature predictions, I have one thing to suggest as a means to cope with the cold – play this gem of an album while drinking a big ass glass of red wine at the end of a long day and enjoy this warm creation indoors!

I Faram Gami I Faram, Mulatu’s Hideaway and A Kiss Before Dawn are my favorites. (by Devon Eye)


Mulatu Astatke (vibraphone, piano, drums)
Robert Cuadrado (bass)
Rudy Houston (piano, trumpet)
Tony Pearson (timbales)
John Perez (percussion)
Felix Torres (percussion)

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01. I Faram Gami I Faram (Astatke) 2.20
02. Mascaram Setaba (Astatke) 1.49
03. Shagu (Astatke) 3.05
04. One For Buzayhew (Astatke)
05. Alone In The Crowd (Snapper) 3.55
06. Almaz (Astatke) 2.53
07. Mulatu’s Hideaway (Astatke) 2.55
08. Askum (Houston) 2.10
09. A Kiss Before Dawn (Snapper/Weiss) 3.10
10. Playboy Cha Cha (Garcia) 3.56



Levon Helm – American Son (1980)

FrontCover1American Son is a studio album by American country rock musician Levon Helm, who is most famous for his work as drummer for the rock group the Band. It was released in October 1980 on MCA Records and was Helm’s third studio album. It has been generally considered Levon Helm’s best solo work until the release of Dirt Farmer in 2007.

Helm played the part of Loretta Lynn’s father in 1980 film Coal Miner’s Daughter and was asked to record a version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” for the film’s soundtrack. The session went well, and producer Fred Carter, Jr., decided to cut more tracks. Using a band of veteran Nashville session players, Carter and Helm recorded 20 tracks over two weeks, half of which ended up on American Son. (by wikipedia)

While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling. American Son offers ten songs (the single “Blue Moon of Kentucky” b/w “Working in a Coal Mine” offers two more) from those productive sessions. A band of Nashville veterans replaces the superstar lineup of Helm’s first two albums. The resulting record has a relaxed groove that kicks in with “Watermelon Time in Georgia” and doesn’t let up. The terrific “Hurricane” evokes the Band’s second album, while “Violet Eyes” and “China Girl” are highlighted by engaging harmonies. American Son is considered by many to be Levon’s best solo album. (by J.P. Ollio)

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After much digging through used bins I came across a copy of Levon’s American Son – his third solo album (not released on CD) a few months ago and I have been listening to it regularly since. It really is very good, especially side 2 (side 1 starts strong, but I am less enthusiastic about the last few). So you can have better sense of where this opinion is coming from, you should know that I found both of the first two solo albums from Levon to be pretty ho-hum. Pleasant but no thrills. But this one really is worth hunting down. It never slips below adequate and at times (i.e. “Watermelon time in Georgia” – the opener to side one, and the fantastic three song sequence closing side two “Nashville Wimmen”/a sublime “Blue House of Broken Hearts” and a charming “Sweet Georgia Wine”) it really does have the “base of the backbone thrills” that I once complained Levon’s solo work lacks. (Well, I take it back now.)

The album is much more of a country effort than the first two albums. The production/arrangements by Fred Carter Jr. are much simpler and more effective than the horn-laden Duck Dunn production of Levon Helm. (Carter was the Ronnie Hawkins guitarist whose slot Robbie moved into when Carter went off to Nashville session work.) Carter plays lead guitar, some Nashville session people fill in behind him. (Also Levon in his book says that the Cates came down to pitch in. I think it is one of the Cate brothers singing harmony on “Blue House of Broken Hearts”. Whoever it is, he is fantastic!)

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Among the many things that stand out about this album is the drumming. Levon is really doing very interesting things. (I am not usually prone to notice drumming, so it says something that I noticed here.) I remember reading in a drumming magazine interview (with some Really Famous Drummer – can’t remember who) some time ago which described Levon as a remarkable drummer in part because of a unique syncopation of the bass drum – an “independent right foot thing”. I had no idea what he was talking about, but after listening to American Son, I do. The bass drum is off carrying a beat that has just a heartbeat’s syncopation relative to everything else. Really effective. Normally, I guess, this is less obvious because of three possible things:

Playing with a distinctive bass guitarist like Rick or Duck Dunn masks the distinctive bass drum.
Sometimes – like on the Muddy Waters Woodstock Album – Levon is trying to just power a song forward in a simple way, and so he just leaves aside the fancy tricks.
Maybe these sessions just took place on one of Levon’s best weeks.

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I might add that for all I know, the bullet Levon put in his butt, severing all sorts of nerves and stuff, may have ended his his ability to manage the bass drum with this kind of finesse – so this may be the only place to hear Levon at his drumming peak.

The circumstances of the recording of this album were apparently this: Levon went to the Bradley Barn recording studio in Nashville (where Ronnie Hawkins, with Levon and assorted sessionmen had recorded Ronnie Hawkins Sings the Songs of Hank Williams over twenty years earlier) to record “Blue Moon of Kentucky” for the Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack. Things really clicked in the studio, so as Levon put it, they decided to “put some hay in the barn” by recording a bunch of less-known standards. (None of the songs is original, unless you count “Stay With Me” written by producer Carter.) The musical chemistry is infectious: even the weaker songs are redeemed by the lively and subtle musicianship of Levon, Fred Carter, and whoever else is playing. (by James Tappenden – from the Usenet newsgroup, December 1995.)


Beegie Adair (piano)
Kenneth Buttrey (drums)
Jerry Carrigan (drums)
Buddy Emmons (pedal steel-guitar)
Steve Gibson (guitar)
Levon Helm (drums, vocals, harmonica)
Mitch Humphries (organ, background vocals)
Bobby Ogdin (keyboards)
Buster Phillips (drums)
Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano)
Clifford Robertson (organ)
Billy Sanford (guitar)
Steve Schaffer (bass)
Jerry Shook (guitar, mandolin)
Henry Strzelecki (bass, background vocals)
background vocals:
Todd Cerney – Buzz Cason

01. Watermelon Time In Georgia (Howard) 3.45
02. Dance Me Down Easy (Henley/Burnette) 2.51
03. Violet Eyes (Kimmel) 3.11
04. Stay With Me (Carter) 3.02
05. America’s Farm (Rogers) 3.07
06. Hurricane (Stegall/Harris/Schuyler) 4.01
07. China Girl (New/Silbar) 3.15
08. Nashville Wimmin (Howard) 4.08
09. Blue House Of Broken Hearts (Martin/Cerney) 3.29
10. Sweet Peach Georgia Wine (Reynolds) 3.48



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Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm (May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012)

Gabor Szabo – Belsta River (1978)

FrontCover1Belsta River is an album by Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó (March 8, 1936 – February 26, 1982) featuring performances recorded in Stockholm in 1977 and released on the Swedish Four Leaf Clover label.

For Szabo’s second Swedish recording, only guitarist Janne Schaffer returned. Producer Lars Samuelson, a talent scout of eclectic tastes, cast the rest of the band with a variety of European musicians including Zappa bassist (and, subsequently, classical composer) Pekka Pohjola. Named for the Ballstaan River crossing through Sundbyberg, a suburb north of Stockholm where the recording was made (and pictured on the cover), BELSTA RIVER is an enjoyable, often engaging session with a pleasant back-to-basics feel.

Significantly, BELSTA RIVER does not wear the dated shackles of so much “jazz” made in 1978. While rife with the electronic instrumentation and (somewhat) danceable beats of its predecessor (FACES) and the final album which follows (FEMME FATALE), there is an abundant sense of invention and interplay here lacking in Szabo’s American recordings at the time. The long tunes allow for plenty of blowing and a refreshing opportunity for expression. The talent involved contributes directly to the musicality of the proceedings here rather than to the string and vocal contrivances that falsely decorate the other albums. And Samuelson’s production is crystal clear — a substantial sonic achievement over the more satisfying SMALL WORLD. It is perhaps one of the cleanest ever provided to Szabo.


“24 Carat” starts as little more than a jam on a riff (partially borrowed from Tony Dumas’s “It Happens”), ignited by the bassist and chockful of vamps familiar to the guitarist. But it’s worth noting how much Szabo seems to feel at home here; craftily weaving a fabric of moods into a genuine musical frenzy. Gulgowski and Pohjola, spellbound and spellbinding, solo impressively.

Likewise, “First Tune In The Morning” adds a twist of dark funk (courtesy of Pohjola) to the mysterious Eastern influence of the earlier “Lady Gabor.” It is a mesmerizing concoction wherein Szabo, Schaffer and Gulgowski’s keyboards stir a lavish, infectious brew.

“Stormy,” presumably dated by 1978, gets a new reading here by Szabo (his first is on GABOR SZABO 1969) but pleasingly yields one of his finer, beautifully constructed song-like solos. Schaffer’s rockish solo follows; as much in its brief space a showpiece as a tribute to the leader who’s style he’d clearly assimilated.


Perhaps the most fascinating turn of all is the unusual guitar/bass dirge of “Django.” Jarring as much as an acid-trip elegy, it’s Szabo’s first and only reference to Django Reinhardt, the subject of John Lewis’s famous ode. After several listens, “Django” impresses most in the way Gabor Szabo can make a hollowed-out body of wood and strings positively sing. A devilishly seductive piece.

Szabo is clearly at ease here; comfortable with his surroundings and seemingly satisfied with his support, even as he spins himself into worlds of his own. As a result, his playing is spirited, and, though too often reliant on pet licks, quite enjoyable. Gulgowski and Pohjola are outstanding additions and contribute notably here through a high level of musicianship and an apparent ability to easily slip into Szabo’s universe. (

Alternate labels:

Issued in 1978 on LP, Belsta River, one of Hungarian guitarist and composer Gabor Szabo’s finest albums, is finally out on CD — in a double pack with his other Stockholm date, 1972’s Small World. The set is on Four Leaf Records and is available as an inexpensive import. Six years after the pair of sessions that yielded the critically acclaimed but commercially ignored Small World, Szabo once again teamed with Swedish guitarist Janne Schaffer in a sextet setting that also featured keyboards, bass, drums, and hand percussion. There are only four tracks on the set: two fine Szabo originals (“24 Carat,” “First Tune in the Morning”), “Django” by the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis, and J.R. Cobb’s classic “Stormy.” With Schaffer playing foil on every track here and Wlodek Gulgowski’s stunning left-handed improvisational work on piano, this is more of a blowing session than any Szabo had ever played on.


It’s funky, greasy, and elegant. “24 Carat,” with its bluesy Latin funk, is the perfect opportunity for everyone to get acquainted — solos and bubbling bass riffs pop the tune so deep into a groove there’s nowhere to go but over the top. “Django” is taken with gracious restraint, as is the beginning of “First Tune in the Morning,” which becomes a trippy exercise in the kind of exotica that Weather Report once did so well, powered by a pair of deeply lyrical superchopper guitar players. “Stormy” is a lyric masterpiece that, in its understatement, gives way to some of the most tasteful interactive soloing in electric jazz history. In all, this was Szabo’s last fine moment on record, but what a moment it was. (by Thom Jurek)

Recorded at Europa Film Studio in Stockholm, Sweden on January 6 & 7, 1978


Malando Gassama (percussion)
Wlodek Gulgowski (piano, synthesizer)
Pekka Pohjola (bass)
Janne Schaffer (guitar)
Peter Sundell (drums)
Gábor Szabó (guitar)

Alternate frontcover:

01. 24 Carat (Szabó) 14.00
02. Django (Lewis) 4.07
03. First Tune In The Morning (Szabó) 13.06
04. Stormy (Buie/Cobb) 8.28



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