Mulatu Astatke @ The Bakery, Perth (08/10/10)

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The Bakery is back in business, at last. With a new look it was time to explore as we walked through the car park into the doors. Sea containers remain the theme, and have been used to create extensions on the building. Walking there is a choice of two pathways. To the left is a long narrow room full of comfortable couches, perfect for a quiet rendezvous or breather from the busier areas to come. From here one can venture into the large toilets, which come complete with massive mirrors and more couches. Then there is the mazed pathway of red curtains that lead into the main stage area. Tonight it was decked out with silver and blue sparkling streamers and instruments set out ready for action. To the back (that can be found on entry using the second pathway) is a courtyard area for socialising with friends. Although it’s all enclosed, the bouncer declares proudly, he can smoke inside. Good for him. The sea crates give an industrial dingy feel with all the seating providing a comfort factor and the various artists make The Bakery a place to discover.

First of all this evening were The Aksari Afrobeat Orchestra who are self described as an African supergroup. Brass and drums were prominent with Grace Barbe lending her amazing voice to many songs. As many of the members were familiar, the audience pondered if it is a hybrid of The Funk Club House Band. It was, kind of, mixed with The Soul Atomics and Barbe. Dance-ability was high although as it was still early in the evening the crowd were still warming up.

The Sunshine Brothers eased their way onstage with their laid back reggae/dub experience. James Murphy on trumpet reappeared after a short break from his turn with the first band. One wondered whether he’d show up again in the main act’s band, but no, his turn ended after this set. Slow and steady wins the race with these dudes, with a deliberate burning rise in energy using their vast instrumental skills offset by the raspy vocal of Cheeky. It was to be their second last show in Perth before heading off on a tour of Spain, lucky lads.

Before Mulatu Astatke made it to the stage, there was an influx of men in hats to the viewing arena. Grandpa hats and fedoras are apparently appropriate garb for watching Ethiopian Jazz. The most impressive was a sequined beret worn proudly by a serious looking fellow. The variety in headwear was not the only thing to notice in the crowd. It was a mixed bag of ages, from young teens to elderly jazz aficionados and with people of many different origins.

The Black Jesus Experience from Melbourne appeared first of all, playing a couple of songs by way of introduction to Mr Astatke. The band fuses ethopian jazz, funk and hiphop. The hip hop side was predominant with an MC announcing we were waiting, waiting for Mulatu. Yes we were, and with his start time being later than expected at 11.45pm we were well and truly ready for him to arrive! Astatke’s voice could be heard before he was seen but what he was saying was muffled for those toward the back of the venue. But as the music started, first with the deep bass then the discordant brass and shakers Mulatu Astatke began on his famous vibraphone. He invented this sound of “ethio-jazz” so how can he possibly get it wrong?

The sound of ethio-jazz is infinitely cool. It has a seventies sounding vibe with minor progressions floating around impressive jazz instrumental solos. If anyone has seen the movie Broken Flowers then Astatke provided much of the soundtrack to this. Astatke was responsible for fusing latin jazz sounds with Ethiopian modal sounds and on the whole there is a mysterious feeling to it.

To the back of the venue people were sitting and letting the harmonies float over them whilst those toward the front were dancing along. Astatke used a loop pedal to allow his vibraphone melodies continue whilst he focused on his bongo drumming. The Black Jesus Experience stepped up to the plate and provided impressive instrumentals, on saxophone especially. At 67, Astatke is doing remarkably well for himself. Hopefully he will continue to spread ethio-jazz around the world.

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