"Unfinished" is the kindest word to describe this album, recorded in 2010 and left on the shelf until its release was prompted after Hugh Masekela passed in 2018. It should have stayed on the shelf.
The album consists of eight tracks of noodling by Masekela, accompanied by autopilot timekeeping from Tony Allen, who passed a few weeks after the album was finally released in spring 2020. Masekela and Allen had recorded the tracks unaccompanied and on the fly when their tour schedules found them in London at the same time. They sound tired. There are no substantial tunes or lyrics, just a few skeletal motifs and chants, and no arrangements worthy of the description. Sound quality is crisp and clear, but somehow that makes the music itself sound even more tedious. Even great musicians have off days.
In 2019, between Masekela's passing and the album's release, half a dozen musicians were brought in to fill out the tracks. They include some of London's finest: keyboard player Joe Armon-Jones, tenor saxophonist Steve Williamson and vibraphonist Lewis Wright. But all they do is tinker around the edges. Silk purses and pigs' ears come to mind. As the hired help, the sessioneers are the only people to emerge from this sorry affair with their reputations unsulliedalthough those of Masekela and Allen will only be momentarily dented.
If you want to celebrate Hugh Masekela, check the YouTube clip below. If you want to celebrate Tony Allen, check any of his albums with Fela Kuti.
Robbers, Thugs and Muggers;
Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same;
Jabulani (Rejoice, Here Comes Tony);
Obama Shuffle Strut Blues;
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.