Jazz Is Dead Records JID018
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
When the great Nigerian drummer Tony Allen was in Fela Kuti’s band, Africa 70, he helped invent Afrobeat, which combined American funk and jazz with Nigeria’s own musical heritage. Allen played with Kuti throughout the 1970s and began recording on his own in 1975, while still with Africa 70. He began focusing on his own music more intently by the mid-1980s and worked with younger musicians in various genres throughout the 2000s. He played in two bands with Blur’s Damon Albarn: The Good, the Bad & the Queen, and Rocket Juice & the Moon.
From his home base in Paris, France, Allen continued to release work steadily as a leader or co-leader until his death in 2020. A few months before he died, Allen released Rejoice, a collaboration with Hugh Masekela. The South African jazz trumpeter had died in 2018, before the album was completed, so Allen and producer Nick Gold finished it with the help of musicians from the jazz scene in London, England.
Two posthumous recordings appeared in 2021: There Is No End and The Solution Is Restless. Now Jazz Is Dead has added one more Tony Allen album to the drummer’s discography. Jazz Is Dead 18 matches Allen with Los Angeles musicians, many of whom have appeared on other recordings in the JID catalog. Usually, the label’s recordings are coproduced by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, but this time out, Younge went solo in that role. He also co-composed the album’s eight tracks with Allen, and plays several instruments.
Allen lays down a polyrhythmic groove on “Ebun,” keeping steady time on the hi-hat as he plays alternating patterns on the snare. Accents on the kick drum help move the beat along as Scott Mayo plays an establishing melody on flute. Younge adds a solid bass riff to give the piece shape as other percussion filters in. Baritone sax and trumpet expand the melody lines, then Younge riffs on guitar as the horns and reeds join in an ensemble vamp. The horns and percussion simmer for a while, and Younge adds to the heat with guitar and keys, his bass-playing locking into Allen’s unerring time.
“Steady Tremble” is built around an even more complex rhythm from Allen, and Younge’s use of two vintage keyboards—an Ace Tone electric organ and an Orgatron. Younge adds some slightly distorted, wah-pedal electric guitar to bring a hint of ’70s funk to the arrangement, and a large horn section keeps the groove percolating. Younge employs a number of old-fashioned keyboards throughout this collaboration with Allen, and they help tie the music to the Afrobeat sound, which still sounds fresh and vital all these years later.
Younge plays a simmering bass line alongside Allen’s insistent beat on “No Beginning” as additional percussion begins to filter in. A horn arrangement joins the intensifying percussion, and the song evokes memories of the soundtracks of various 1970s urban-detective films and TV shows. Allen’s complex drumming adds a unique angle to this mash-up of styles, and Emile Martinez’s burning trumpet solo helps pull the song’s various elements together.
“No Beginning” segues into “No End,” with Allen laying down a solid funk beat and Younge firing off another popping bass line. Younge’s distorted, wah-wah guitar sound underscores the ’70s funk elements of the song, and meshes with his Ace Tone organ melodies. An eight-piece horn section punches in to reinforce the arrangement’s driving rhythm.
Allen and Younge don’t attempt to fully recreate the Afrobeat sound that Fela Kuti and Allen originated. Most of the tracks on the album come in at around three minutes, while even Kuti’s short tunes run closer to 15. In addition, Kuti’s records featured his vocals, which expressed his political and social ideas. In contrast, the tracks on Jazz Is Dead 18 are instrumentals. Younge’s use of vintage keyboards and older guitar styles are a clear homage to Kuti, but he brings his own background in film scoring, R&B, and hip hop to broaden the reach of the music on this album.
The sound on the vinyl edition of Jazz Is Dead 18 captures the various tones of Allen’s drum kit and the attack of Younge’s bass. I heard plenty of separation between the overdriven guitars and keyboards and the cleaner presentation of other instruments. While at times I wished for a bit more space in the recording, small details of the percussion instruments and Allen’s subtle drum technique were audible and added to the excitement of the music. Pallas Group pressed the 180gm LP in Germany, and my copy arrived flat and quiet.
While Younge brings other influences to Jazz Is Dead 18, Allen’s unique drum style is the foundation of the compositions. The result can’t help but lean strongly in the Afrobeat direction. The musicians on Jazz Is Dead 18 are American, but they respond with ease to Allen’s layered and complex rhythm patterns. The eight tracks on the album are heavy on atmosphere and establish strong feel and groove. Younge’s horn arrangements and his playing throughout the album are intelligent, sophisticated, and elegant—Allen’s playing demands that level of care. If this is the final album to be released in Tony Allen’s name, it brings a formidable career to a fine close.
. . . Joseph Taylor