Mulatu Astatke Credit: Alexis Maryon (c) 2013 for harmonia mundi

Vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke has a seamless way of fusing the music of his native Ethiopia with jazz and Latin music (and you can hear a little bit of R&B in that mix too). On paper this esoteric brew might seem like an acquired taste, but in reality it’s just one worldly step away from Lonnie Liston Smith, Atlantic-era Les McCann, or any other 70s musician who tweaked jazz to follow popular tastes without watering down their sounds. On Astatke’s 1966 debut album, Afro-Latin Soul, he blended Ethiopian melodies with Latin jazz so skillfully that an inexperienced listener would never know either genre had been altered, but Astatke was bringing a different spice to the table. He recorded that album and its follow-up, Afro-Latin Soul Vol. 2, while living in New York, but though his work at the time reflected the musical culture of his adopted city, he never forgot the sounds of his homeland—and in the early 70s, he brought his hybrid style back to Africa, becoming one of the founders of the Ethio-jazz movement. Astatke has worked steadily through the decades, so when his music was rediscovered in the 90s by collectors of 70s jazz-funk, he was hardly a docile revival artist. He earned a new audience thanks to late-90s reissues of his work by Paris-based label Buda Musique as part of its famous Éthiopiques series, and in the 2000s he collaborated extensively with UK and U.S. bands such as the Heliocentrics and the Either/Orchestra. On his most recent album, 2013’s Sketches of Ethiopia, Astatke continues his musical evolution.   v