Largely the work of formidable musician-arranger Mulatu Astatqe, the 14 instrumentals here were originally issued on two LPs in 1972 and 1974 in Ethiopia, and represent a curious blend of soul-jazz and R&B with just a smattering of Ethiopian roots breaking up the stabbing horn lines, wah-wah guitars, and simmering electric piano. Curious, because at the time jazz was not very popular in Ethiopia, but that is no reflection on the quality of these primitively recorded sides of idiosyncratic Afro-funk. The grooves are long and laconic, the sound reminiscent of Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way" paired with Cannonball Adderly and Roy Ayers. But, as with all things Ethiopian, the music retains its own unique and unmistakable identity, one somewhere between a late-night jazz hole-in-the-wall group and a supper club belly-dancing combo. There are some very inventive arrangements and vigorous soloing, rendering a highly articulate and listenable music that was, at the time, doomed to go nowhere. Such is the retrospective value of reissues. --Derek Rath
Featuring Mulatu Astatqé, as heard in Jim Jarmusch's new movie Broken Flowers.
An album of instrumentals, Ethiopiques 4 is a case study in the inventive blending of the influences that comprised the Ethiopian groove. Strains of funk and reggae permeate the thick, chunky bass lines, multiple saxophones swirl with the hypnotic, sounds of the East, and resonating with jazzy tones reminiscent of John Coltrane and Lester Young.
In the Ethiopian musical world, Mulatu Astaqé (ou Astake) is atypical and unique. For 30 years he has been an inescapable presence, a virtual statue casting a long shadow over the Ethiopian scene.The singularity of this musician- arranger-composer-innovator-melder of influences-organiser resides in his efforts in favour of instrumental music in a country where musical culture and tradition are strangers to it.