Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ROW: Tony Allen - Jealousy/Progress (Evolver)

Tony Allen’s tenures at the wheel of Africa ’70 were fleeting compared those of its founder Fela Kuti, but the drummer made the most of the periodic role reversals with his employer. The single-word titles of the two albums from ’75 and ‘77 reissued on this UK disc cut to the topical chase in much the same manner as his propulsive and polyrhythmic kit style. Similarities to contemporaneous Fela-led sets like Expensive Shit and No Agreement are sizeable. But there are differences too, most notably in the amount of solo space accorded Allen and the resulting dynamic more in line with the jazz quartet that marked the beginnings of their collaboration in 1964. Head-bobbing grooves are rampant, as are the respectively hard riffing horn charts and idiosyncratic saxophone solos from Fela, the latter sections making up in charming brio and muscle when they give up in errant reed squeaks and occasionally roughshod phrasing. The rest of the band is on point across the pair of A-side title pieces and the B-side instrumentals (particularly the smoldering shanty funk of “Hustler”) and the set weighs in at an economical LP-length all told. Allen’s years with Africa ’70 were numbered and as the set’s notes contend his eventual departure would signal a shift in Fela’s sound from which he would never fully recoup. That sentiment, subjective as it might be, gains substantial traction on the aural evidence of these formerly rare sides.

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