Tony Allen ‘Film of Life’ (Jazz Village) 4/5

tony-allenSeminal Afro-Beat drummer Tony Allen perfected and pioneered that instantly distinctive layered percussive sound and this is the backbone to this excellent new album, his tenth in total as a leader, that re-traces the classic Nigerian sound while exploring new musical domains to good effect.
Now permanently resident in France, Allen has a regular French-based band and the tightness of the arrangements and performances is a clear indication of the stability in his life and he seems to be enjoying a new lease of life as a musician if this recording is anything to go by.The irresistible groove of the opener ‘Moving on’ sets the scene for much of what is to follow with gorgeous unison horn arrangements and vocals delivered by Allen himself in a soft tone with female call and response vocals. This instantly takes the listener back to the golden era of Afro-Beat back in the mid-late 1970s. What makes this track all the more memorable is the underlying keyboard riff that after repeated listens gets under the skin and remains indelibly fixed in the mind. Equally strong is the throbbing non-stop instrumental groove of ‘African Man’ which comes across like a re-enactment of the Fela Kuti-Roy Ayers collaboration with some delicious accompaniment on vibes. In a more experimental rhythm exploration is the intricately laid down multi-layered beats of another instrumental ‘Koko Dance’ while for some sophisticated Afro-Beat, the combined guitar and keyboard riffs on ‘Afro Kungfu Beat’ works a treat and would be ideal territory for fans of more eclectic retro disco grooves. Among several guests, close collaborator Damon Albarn contributes under several guises and this is a collaboration that goes back in time to 2003 and a chance meeting between Albran and Allen in London. Albran would subsequently work with the leader on Allen’s ‘Homecooking’ release. The English singer co-writes and sings on the sparse piano accompaniment intro to ‘Go back’ and which is a song aimed at attracting wider attention among a pop and rock audience. On ‘Tiger Ship’ Albarn performs on the haunting melodica instrument. Vocalists Adunni and Nefretiti star on the gritty old school soul (à la James Brown circa 1965) of Ire Omo’ where soul and Afro-Beat collide and yet have a great deal in common. In a left field vein, the staccato Afro-Beat of ‘Boat Journey’ takes the listener in another direction altogether, but is still a thrilling experience for all that. Tony Allen will perform live in London at the Village underground’ on 20 November as part of the London Jazz Festival.

Tim Stenhouse