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Tony Allen – A Tribute To Art Blakey (EP)

May 22, 2017

I first discovered Art Blakey in 1982 when he got a lot of buzz for a couple of young brothers in his band: Wynton and Bradford Marsalis. I soon learned that Blakey’s The Jazz Messengers was one of the great “graduate schools” of jazz. Outside of Miles Davis, there is not another bandleader with more distinguished alumni. Despite being a hall of fame jazz drummer, Blakey’s “school” may be the greater legacy.  

I discovered Tony Allen via Fela Kuti.  Allen is a legendary Nigerian drummer and Afrobeat pioneer and Kuti’s drummer for a number of years.

The idea is for Allen and his seven-piece band to interpret some of the legendary jazz drummer’s catalog through the Afrobeat legend’s lens.  The results are perfection.  A lot of Blakey’s stuff has a nice funky feel to begin with.  For example, Bobby Timmons, who spent a couple of stints with The Jazz Messengers, composed the opening track, “Moanin’”.  Timmons is associated with the soul jazz style of which he was an originator/founder.   “Moanin'” is a naturally funky tune, so it perfect launch point for Tony Allen.  Allen and company play it straight, but they can’t help but infect the tune with just a bit of their Afrobeat.

The rest of the EP includes “Night In Tunisia,” “Politely” and “The Drum Thunder Suite.”   Like “Moanin'” Allen plays it straight with just a twist of Afrobeat.  

The music of Africa was influential for Blakey (aka Abdullah Ibn Buhaina – his Muslim name) throughout his career. In the late-1940s, Blakey spent time traveling abroad in West Africa exploring the culture, religion and the drumming. Blakey later recorded several albums heavily influenced by African music including Orgy in Rhythm (1957), Holiday for Skins (1958), and The African Beat (1962), which featured the Nigerian drummer and percussionist Solomon Ilori.  This is a nifty return volley.  

My only complaint is that this is just a four song EP, I am ready for the long player! Plus Allen’s versions are about half the length of the originals.  Give us more Blue Note. 

Below I have mixed the Allen EP with the Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ tracks they are based on.  It will give you a sense of what kindred spirits the two drummers are.

PS – the cover art is a nice nod to the Blue Note tradition.

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