Review Summary: Mulato Astatke mysteriously creates his own cosmos, blurring the boundaries between worlds.
Mulatu Astatke is highly considered the most important jazz musician coming from Ethiopia, defining in a certain way, what was going to be known as Ethio-Jazz. He created a very singular style of jazz improvisation and rhythmic innovations conducting it to a more danceable groovy endeavor at the same time with an obscure and strange touch.
Éthiopiques vol.04 became a little famous being part of Jim Jarmusch film “Broken Flowers” which contain several tracks coming from this album, it's possibly his most famous album containing some of the most recognizable tunes of his career. It has a variable range of styles, strong brass lines with marked piano harmonies, sometimes ballads with acoustic guitar bases or even some funky tracks with the groove it needs.
Everything here is about space and time, take care to not catch yourself wandering around the city at 3 AM just trying to notch your world to Mulato's atmosphere, or maybe just starting to feel paranoid wondering about solving crimes. When it comes to music itself, what we got here is remarkable also by its simplicity, there is no extreme diversified demonstration of jazz scales, it's the old minor chords doing their job, leading a very stylish world of emotive experimentation.
The first track, “Yèkèrmo Sèw”, bring to the surface all that is hidden in the core of Mulato's music, it has one of the most unforgettable brass riffs I will ever listen, the drums driving time with a cool bass-line on it and an incredible clean sound while the mysterious and charming riff keep doing it's work. This composition has a great progression and it's like some sort of presentation of the band, everybody has a moment, sax, piano, electric guitar and xylophone improvise on a never stopping rhythm section. It's fast, but in a strange way, it goes like if it's in a sluggish tempo, comparable if it's a fast movement watch in slow motion.
“Mètché Dershé” is more mysterious than the previous song and has a beautiful piano line, it feels like you must dance it with eyes closed in some kind of smoky room in a black and white scene in a very old movie, like some noir movie.The sax solo is very charming, so as the guitar and piano ones. This characteristic of mysterious tone will come back in full force on tracks like “Gubèlyé”and “Sabyé” and the last “Dèwèl” which sounds like a detective movie soundtrack. The other sound in the rest of the album goes from soft ballads to funky tunes with extreme brass touches.
“Yègellé Tezeta” and “Munayé” are like some kind of psychedelic legacy from jazz to the rock in it's most 70 feel, not without a sense of tropical warm danceable in a very elegant way. There are happier tracks, being the most funky ones too, like “Kasalèfkut Hulu” which is maybe the funkiest track on the album also delivering very cool saxophone lines, a very funny music, less marked having more relaxed percussion work. “Yèkatit” is some kind of middle term among the mysterious and the dancing and somewhat tropical vibe of songs like “Nètsanèt”.
The sound sometimes gets really close to some sense of psychedelia, there's a little of everything, some moments of rock since the guitar is very distorted, almost contorted at times, what is suddenly crossed with reggae tons of brass and then suddenly all you can hear is Jazz.
“Tezeta” is a beautiful waltz, some of the fragile moments of the album, the sax is again, unforgettable, It's Mulato relaxing, jazzing slow, like some gardener taking care of flowers, cutting its thorns off, just letting the good emotions going on. This and “Ené Alantchi Alnorem” are soft moments with rich improvisation lines, but in some way Mulato works best with groovy mysterious themes than with soft moments, so, if I had to point weak points of the album, those were going to be the slowest tracks.
I do not want to highlight every song on the album neither is my intention to make a track by track review, I almost have done these things, maybe because it's hard for me to express all the different feelings I got when listening to this. It's weird at the same time it's very contained music and it's virtuous being polished simultaneously when keeping the simplicity of the rhythm section. It's jazz to appreciate and also dance, to walk on the streets alone in the darkness or just to put on your player in a Saturday happening at home. Its good music and I highly recommend it, like someone said about Mulato Astatke on Broken Flowers: “It's good for the soul.”