Quick Spins

Reviews of CDs from Mulatu Astatke, Sharam and Silversun Pickups

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics

"Inspiration Information" serves as one of the best arguments yet against practicing. This collaboration between vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke -- widely regarded as the father of Ethiopian jazz -- and the U.K.-based band the Heliocentrics came together after just a single rehearsal and performance. The results are fresh and forward-thinking, and funkiness always prevails.

A handful of Astatke's sensual, instrumentals were highlighted on the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers," and his contribution to the "Ethiopiques" compilation series is arguably the best. The Heliocentrics -- an eight-piece jazz-funk-psych-whatever collective-- bring a modern twist to his sound, but his unmistakable smoothness remains the album's calling card.

"Cha Cha" and "Esketa Dance" swing with a sultry authority. "Addis Black Widow" features an almost-break-beat rhythm, while the wah-wah guitar gives the song both a retro-psychedelic and futuristic feel. "Blue Nile" is most reminiscent of Astatke's older work, one of the few songs that doesn't ever take off, instead floating along on the strength of a tasteful and unobtrusive lead guitar line.

It's surprising that on this hastily arranged set there aren't more moments of meandering jamming. Instead, there's a tight focus throughout, with only a handful of "more fun to play than to listen to" moments. Since the recording of this album, Astatke and the Heliocentrics have teamed up for tour dates, suggesting that even better things could be in store. But it will be hard to top the inspired output of this early meeting.

-- David Malitz

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Esketa Dance," "Addis Black Widow," "Blue Nile"



A member of the famed local DJ-production duo Deep Dish, Sharam Tayebi has fashioned a debut solo disc that specializes in that same kind of accessible, occasionally campy electronica.

"Get Wild" is more reliant on its numerous samples and its ragtag band of novelty-heavy guest artists than it needs to be, but outside of a VH1 reality series, it may be the only time you'll ever find Diddy, Tommy Lee and "American Idol" '05 dropout Mario Vazquez in the same place.

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