Tony Allen ‘The Source’ LP/CD/DIG (Blue Note) (4/5)

Following hot on the heels of one of the summer’s most talked about 10″ EP’s, this new album does not duplicate a single track, but instead is an entirely separate project. Whereas the EP was conceived as a tribute to Art Blakey, reworking some of the classic Blue Note compositions, the new album is made up of entirely original numbers, though if there was to be a common denominator, then it would be the compelling fusion of jazz and Afro-Beat, and even more than the EP this is definitely a coming together of the two.

Accompanied by an eleven piece band, predominantly French (though with Damion Albarn on piano), the tone is Ellingtonian on the opener, ‘Moody Boy’, with clipped guitar from Indy Dibongue and bass the African component. In fact, the horn section is at times Mingus-esque with freer improvised passages, and descends into some deliciously controlled pandemonium, complete with an extended trombone solo. Horns dominate also on the repetitive riff that permeates ‘Cruising’ and the old-school feel is just one of the attractions.

The nearest that this recording comes to more conventional Afro-Beat is on ‘Bad Roads’, with unison horns. Another floating groove is created on ‘Cool Cats’, with stabbing horns and driving bass in the ascendancy. Sometimes, it is the combination of bop and Afro-Beat that works well, as with the appropriately titled ‘On Fire’.

Tony Allen is most certainly experiencing a deeply creative period in his lengthy career, and if this album is anything to go by, the band are likely to cook up a storm in a live setting. A triumphant return for the innovator of the Afro-Beat drum pattern.

Tim Stenhouse