Mulatu Astatke has become increasingly well-known outside his native Ethiopia during the last decade. His “Ethio-jazz” provided the focus for Volume 4 of Buda Musique’s now-legendary Ethiopiques series in 1998 and, more recently, for a retrospective compilation (New York - Addis - London) and a brand new collaborative album (Inspiration Information), both on Strut. In between, his music was disseminated to a new audience via its inclusion on Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers. As the title of the Strut compilation made clear, however, Astatke has enjoyed a lengthy international career; as a teenager and young man he trained in Wales, London, New York, and Boston, and has frequently collaborated with musicians from outside East Africa. Inspiration Information was a fascinating collaboration with UK jazz group the Heliocentrics that showcased the collaborators’ respective strengths while creating something quite new.
Mulatu Steps Ahead continues the spirit of collaborative exploration, in a slightly more muted but no less thrilling manner. Astatke works here with members of Boston’s Either/Orchestra, with whom he has worked since 2004, and there are also contributions from the Heliocentrics, other UK-based jazz and world musicians, and musicians from Addis Ababa.