Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra: Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1 (2001)
These eight midlength pieces (6-10 minutes) each occupy a distinct segment of the groove zone. While there's not much change of key, they rely on a couple of important jazz concepts. First, there's a head and there are solos. Instrumental refrains generally come via arranged horn lines, demarcating extended periods of group and solo improvisation. Second, each track has its own rhythmic structure, meaning that beats (and interlocking beats) organize around an agreed-upon foundation. The tunefulness that results gives this music character and guarantees that the next song will not sound the same. That's very important in a world of deep grooves, funky beats, vamps, and the inherent potential for flaccidity.
Two of the eight tunes feature live performance, which reveals a rawer side of the Antibalas Orchestra. Many of the musicians lay out, allowing more spare improvisation (and vocals) to lead the way into full-force performance. As for the rest: "Battle of the Species" offers an soaring message, using harmonized horn lines as a refrain for periodic improvisational interludes. (Yes, it's a very retro approach: James Brown was doing this sort of thing several decades ago. But freshness is a state of mind, and the Antibalas Orchestra makes a point of that.) "El Macheto" uses sharply interlocking guitar patterns as its foundation, with a cascade of drummers filling in the gaps. Intensity erupts and dissipates through trumpet and sax solos, infusing the group with extra energy and tension.
Provided you can dig a groove for seven or eight minutes (which, by the way, is a whole lot shorter than Fela's record sides), the Antibalas Orchestra will likely inspire you to celebrate its own personal Afrobeat. And that is a wondrous thing indeed.
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Track Listing: Si, Se Puede; Dirt And Blood; Battle Of The Species; N.E.S.T.A. (Never Ever Submit To Authority); Musicawi Silt; Uprising; El Machete; World War IV.
Personnel: Martin Antibalas: conductor, baritone saxophone; Duke Amayo: vocals, conga; Philip Ballman: drums; Giancarlo Luiggi: shekere; Dylan Fusillo: sticks, drums; Fernando Velez: conga; Luke O'Malley: guitar; Mother Africa: second guitar; Don Bonus: trombone; Amadou Diallo: guitar, bass guitar; Victor Axelrod: organ; Michael Herbst: tenor and alto saxophone; Jordan McLean: trumpet; Nick Movshon: bass.
Record Label: Ninja Tune