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Mulatu Astatke's "Peace, Love and Ethio-Jazz Tour" brought the seventy-two year old pioneer of Ethopian jazz to the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds this evening for a thundering ninety minute set. The revered vibraphonist brought with him a slick ensemble of seven musicians to wow the packed Yorkshire concert hall with a series of mostly self-penned compositions from an artist who, since erupting onto the scene in 1963, has not only carved a musical niche entirely of his own but has also collaborated with the cream of world music, including Mahmoud Ahmed and Duke Ellington, during his fifty-two year career.
Tonight, however, the focus was on Astatke's unique Ethio-Jazz sound, led fiercely by Mulatu's sinuous, resonating vibes whilst the engine of Alex Hawkins's deep chunks of piano, John Edwards's organically fluttering bass, Danny Keane’s beautifully nasal cello and Tom Skinner's confidently steady drums rumbled with perpetual excitement behind. That spreading liquidity of sound was dappled throughout with the physically demanding percussion of Richard Olatunde Baker who, during The Way to Nice, held the audience in a bubble of enchantment as he beat a solo path with his bongos and congas towards a haunting outburst of African chants.
Providing the jagged edge on the machine of Astatke's impressive ensemble were trumpet wizard Byron Wallen, who swapped brass for conch to calm the erratic fervour of the wonderful Chik Chika, and London-based saxophonist James Arben who, like his fellow musicians at this evening's consistently inventive concert, revelled in pushing his instrument to its very limits in order to explore the possibilities of its sounds.
But whilst most of tonight's performances had the audience captivated with frenetic rhythms and improvisations, peaking with a gob-smacking energetic solo from bassist John Edwards during Chik Chika which could easily have seen off a less robust instrument, it was, perhaps, Motherland - Astatke's meditative hymn to his native Ethiopia - that prompted a standing ovation at the show's climax.