Instrumental Round-up: Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics; Darcy James Argue & the Secret Society


It seems like every year, there are one or two instrumental records that totally knock me off my feet, reminding me of just how articulate and moving wordless musical expression can be. Last year, it was Marco Benevento and Brian Blade. And this year, I’ve come across a couple of albums that are rooted in jazz but become something totally other– instrumental music that’s full of wit and wonder, and flat-out kicks, to boot.

And no, I’m not talking about Allen Toussaint; I think I’ve made my mad love for that album pretty clear!

The first champ is Inspiration, Information, the startling and superb new collaboration from Ethiopin jazz legend Mulatu Astatke and UK psychadelic collective the Heliocentrics. It’s a true collaboration– it may find its roots in Astatke’s music, but the Heliocentrics are equally involved in the creative process, and the album touches on everything from funk to guitar rock. And here’s what it boils down to: The thing flat-out kicks. You can hear some of the music at All Songs Considered— which, by the way, has already heralded this as the best jazz record yet released in 2009.

The second is Infernal Machines, the new album from composer Darcy James Argue and his eighteen-piece Secret Society band. It’s a complex, at times harrowing piece of music that is, by turns, funny, surprising, and always visionary. It just might change your conceptions of what big band music is. I’d say more, but why not let the music speak for itself? You can stream the entire thing here.

I’ll be posting full reviews of both albums in the next week.


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