Review of Inspiration Information compiled by Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics.
Every now and then, even in times of musical recession, a release hits that commands you to sit up and pay attention. Now for me personally this has become a rarer occasion year by year, but trust me, this is one of those albums. Part of the Strut label's Inspiration Information series, where the label set out to pair "modern artists and producers with their musical heroes" hold them prisoner together in a studio for 5 days and see what Flows. The previous instalments left me a tad cold. Jamaican tinged offerings from Amp Fiddler/Sly & Robbie and Horace Andy/Ashley Beedle respectively. This time sees Tte father of Ethio- Jazz, Mulatu Astatke has teamed up with The Heliocentrics (Now-Again Records), a London based collective who led by Malcolm Catto an impressive drummer who's been playing in the backing band to DJ Shadow and sampled by Madlib for his solo work and Yesterdays New Quintet. These guys have brought about 'Inspiration Information'. A fusion of Jazz, psychedelia, post-rock, hip-hop, breakbeat and much more.
'Masengo' opens things up and immediately I'm reminded of the Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble. Resonating piano and thermin-esque synth with a very Therlonious Monk feel builds to be met with a jagged guitar lick and rhythmic percussion. In comes the vocal. An eastern tinged mantra, repeated. Now this element of the track actually keeps the pace before the track breaks into a freeform jazz Beta Band/early Beck-esque sound. Even at this early stage I feel like this is what Jazz fusion was always missing. This is a fusion of so many sounds, yet it completely avoids sounding like a pastiche, or collage of other peoples ideas. No simple fete. Sure, you can hear Coltrane, Ayler, Sun Ra and even James Brown but they're all topped off with each musicians own slant, and considering Astatke is Ethiopia's best export and the Heliocentrics hail from the littered streets of our dear capital, there's a fair variety of perspectives involved. It's by no means just a world Jazz record. Hell, Astatke shrugged that notion off with just his Éthiopiques series. 'Inspiration Information' is laden with rigid, almost industrial structures, yet feels free and liberating. Breakbeat meets its maker in the most retrospective manner.
Fans of the last Beastie Boys effort 'The Mix Up' should check this out for the next step up. As should fans of all the other bands I mentioned. 'Inspiration Information' certainly doesn't fall short of the title, with intricately balanced structures, sublime textures and an infallible integration of ideas. This, in short, is what nu-jazz failed to be. Interesting, ever surprising and entirely timeless.