by: Hobart Taylor
Tony Allen - The Source - (Blue Note)
The Source indeed. Tony Oladipo Allen is one of the most influential musicians in all popular music, so how come you don't recognize his name right away? Maybe it's for the same reasons you don't recognize the influences he promulgated. You see, Allen was drummer and music director for Fela Kuti, and was present at the creation of Afro-Beat, the sound that informs countless jazz, rap, reggae, and rock acts. Chilli Peppers anyone? The deep polyrhythmic grooves that add sophistication and soul to so much that music lovers enjoy came from Allen's ability in his own words, "to move four limbs independently". Fela Kuti's larger than life persona overshadowed the musical nuance that Allen brought to the music, and the appropriation of African elements in popular music almost never gets recognition in mainstream analysis. So thanks Don Was and Blue Note for bringing this elder statesman of creative music the platform he deserves. Working here with a band he has assembled from his home base in Paris, Allen's current work is tied to his influences,the cool jazz and bop era of '60's and '70's jazz. Deep in the horn arrangements there is Coltrane, Rahsan Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, and so the circle remains unbroken. The grooves are super chill and hypnotic, the nuanced interplay, a neuronic fireworks show.
Chicago Afrobeat Project Featuring Tony Allen - What Goes Up - (Self Released)
So, as I mentioned in the previous review, Allen is a deep influence on contemporary music. Working here with a panoply of Chicago rappers and the band The Chicago Afrobeat Project who have been that city's house Afrobeat band since 2002, various American pop elements intermingle with the deep grooves. Electronics, smooth vocals, and casual American pop sensibilities mix well with Allen's definitive rhythmic structures. Not quite as sophisticated or profound as "The Source", this is still a good time and a joy to listen to.
FatsO - On Tape - (Jazzhaus)
So Tom Waits sings blues, but his voice has smoothed out a little, he has twenties jazz arrangements, blues and blistering rock guitar licks, and band that can play anything. Oh, and they are all from Colombia, but the lead singer sings in unaccented English except for when they all switch to Colombian traditional music. That's almost accurate. Actually, the vibe is Lowell George. This is a deeply musical record, ful of surprises and delights. Check out "Brain Candy", "Out of Control", "It's Getting Bad" and "I'll Be Fine.".
Kronos Quartet - Folk Songs - (Nonesuch)
Kronos champions the whole universe of music, contemporary composers, jazz and rock artists, a wealth of non-European musics, electronic, and the classical canon. Here they take on American traditional music, Appalachian, which is basically to say Scotch-Irish diaspora music. I call this one of the creative musics because improvisation on top of rigorous form provides a catalytic energy that expands the mind of any sentient listener. Joined by the expressive and meditative keening and crooning of Sam Amidon, Natalie Merchant, Olivia Chaney, and Rhiannon Giddens, Kronos provides color and shape to the dreams and memories of our mountain ancestors. It's all wonderful, but check out the soulful performance by Natalie Merchant of "The Butcher Boy", echoes of Marianne Faithfull.
Douye - Daddy Said So - (Self-Released)
"Frozen in amber", "timeless", "classical", these could all describe the crystalline renderings of ballads so embedded in our musical heritage that they seem to be a part of the atmosphere itself. Doye sings jazz standards with great skill and passion. Joined by a hand picked assortment of many of the best players in modern jazz, many of them leaders of their own outstanding ensembles, Douye puts her stamp on these most familiar tunes. "Mood Indigo", her gorgeous take on "Round Midnight" and best of all, her version of the Ellington classic "Sophisticated Lady" stand out the most.
Harold Mabern - To Love and Be Loved - (Smoke Sessions)
One of the deans of the genre is pianist Mabern (81) , along with the Jimmy Cobb (88) who drums on this disc. Well, let's just say these guys go waaaaay back. Early Cannonball and Miles waaaaaay back. With the deft Eric Alexander on tenor sax, bassist Nat Reeves, and Freddie Hendrix on a few cuts on trumpet, Mabern bops out pop jazz tunes from back in the day, but really shines on a Lee Morgan classic, "The Gigolo", an uptempo McCoy Tyner tune "Inner glimpse" and on a blues tune where he can show off his Memphis roots, Gene Ammons' "Hittin the Jug".
John Dokes - Forever Reasons - (Rondette)
Singer Dokes has a voice of burnt umber and the phrasing of the German Railroad System, always on time. Articulate to the max, this recording is a master class in jazz singing. With a piano trio and trombone, the settings for these tunes are as precise as his singing, although Dave Gibson's trombone has a cozy fuzziness about it. Check out "Just You, Just Me", "You Don't Know What Love is", and the tune I frequently dedicate to the person who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, "If You Only Had A Brain".
Paul Jones - Clean - (Outside In Music)
Saxophonist Jones is a virtuoso, and he utilizes serialism as a key component of his sound, (Michael Nyman, Yusef Lateef, Philip Glass), but he also swings out. Not tied to genre, he works here with classical instrumentalists performing on cello, bassoon and oboe, as well as with wonderful saxophone quartet. This is a thoughtful and engaging record celebrating tunes that are bubble fragile and transparent with a rainbow sheen.