Hooray for Amazon gift certificates, which allow me to play catchup on recently-released jazz at the end of the year. That concludes our Amazon ass-kissing segment.
Mulatu Astatke / The Heliocentrics
Inspiration Information 3
Moreso than just about any other jazz album this year, Atatke's latest effort flew completely under the radar this year, save for an extensive review on NPR's All Things Considered by Robert Christgau and a favorable NPR blog post by Bob Boilen. Neither of these two reviewers, it should be noted, are jazz critics. But then again, Inspiration Information is not a typical jazz record (indeed, Amazon.com lists it as a "Dance & DJ" album, not jazz). Instead, it is a tightly woven groove-oriented work that clearly reveals the influence of Astatke's collaborators, English funk band The Heliocentrics. Much of the album sounds like a Medeski Martin & Wood effort, had the American acid jazz trio grown up in sub-Saharan Africa.
And for the most part, it is a highly enjoyable album. Astatke and the Heliocentrics employ numerous vamps and grooves to create a little world in each tune. The arrangements utilize loops manually, with each instrument coming in and out at different intervals. The result is a very organic-sounding acid jazz band that sounds exciting on each track. The group also gets major bonus points for getting a harp and a cello to groove hard. Indeed, my only gripe is that many of the tracks feel too short.
Most jazz bloggers are just about done catching up on everything they missed in 2009. I'm still working on 2008 (you know, with the day job and all...). So needless to say, my friend Eric was shocked to learn that I had not checked out Aaron Parks yet. Obviously, I was overdue.
His most recent effort is proof enough of his talent. Recording with bassist Matt Penmann and drummer Eric Harland, along with guitarist Mike Moreno, Parks creates an ethereal mood on most of these tracks, from the suspenseful tension of Travelers to the (comparatively) rollicking drive of Roadside Distraction. Like Astatke, Parks creates a little universe on each track, filling it with lots of detail in a way that is not overwhelming to comprehend.