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Tony Allen – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 07/04/2018

When mention is made of the name Tony Allen it is invariably in the very same breath as Afrobeat for he is the master Nigerian drummer who powered Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70 in the late 1960s and throughout the following decade and together the two men created this most distinctive of music genres, a wonderful fusion of African high-life, jazz and the more percussive rhythms of funk.

Since leaving Africa ’70 at what were the peak of their powers – for reasons that would seem to owe a great deal to money and Fela Kuti’s increasing militancy – Tony Allen has never stood still, choosing to further develop and diversify the Afrobeat sound through collaborations with artists as musically diverse as Jùjú maestro King Sunny Adé, the British-Indian singer Susheela Raman, Anglo-French chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Damon Albarn, and the dub-techno pioneer Moritz von Oswald.

More recently, though, Tony Allen has returned to his jazz roots. Having signed with Blue Note France – Allen has been based in Paris since the mid-80s – he released an EP tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in May of last year. He describes the legendary American jazz drummer as “my hero” and having listened to Blakey and his fellow countryman, be-bop supremo Max Roach on the radio in Nigeria in the early 1960s he cites them both as early influences on his playing.

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Following on from the ‘A Tribute to Art Blakey’ EP, Tony Allen put together an impressive ensemble of largely Parisian jazz musicians and together they recorded The Source. And with five of those musicians – saxophonist and the album’s musical director Yann Jankielewicz, Nicolas Giraud on trumpet, Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue, Jean Phi Dary on grand piano and organ and upright bass player Mathias Allamane – Allen returns to this record for tonight’s performance in the Howard Assembly Room.

For seventy five sublime minutes Tony Allen and his band take us on a quite mesmeric, effortless musical journey through some of his earliest musical inspirations. It is an explorative, ecstatic trip that evokes subtle memories of Ethiopian jazz (on opening cut ‘Bad Roads’), the distinctive modal scales of Kind of Blue-period Miles Davis (‘Ewajo’), the joyful sounds of New Orleans (on the delightful improvisation of ‘Push and Pull’), Duke Ellington (‘Cruising’) and James Brown funk (‘Cool Cats’) and all of which is filtered through the unique prism of the drummer’s great African rhythmic intuition.

Photo credit: Simon Godley

More photos from this show are HERE

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