On first impression, AfuriKo seems to sit somewhere between groovy Miles Davis circa Big Fun (Columbia, 1974) and the electric '70s fusion of, say, Joe Zawinul or Jeff Beck. You have the deep rhythms, world- spanning percussion and any tone an electric piano can make. The name is a portmanteau combining the Japanese terms for "child" and "Africa," while the approach to music is rooted in that continent's griot traditions of conveying stories and experiences in song.
Akiko Horii spins rhythms with a range of instruments from hand cymbals to djembe while Jim Funnell handles the melody with a poly-shaded palette of mostly-electrified keyboards. The instrumentation stays just as straightforward as that sounds, and yet it's never quite that simple. The percussion implements are executed with melody in mind according to each one's pitch (spots like the frisky "Oleleko" have the two practically sharing dual leads). In the same way, Funnell's keys always keep a steady groove going under whatever line or motif he's spinning.
While it would be easy to start a series of grooves and just improvise, AfuriKo sets its sights a little wider. The patterns draw on traditional rhythms from the Mediterranean to South America. "Rainbow Snake" takes its title and drum base from ancient Aboriginal mythology, then layers some quasi-bebop piano on top. The electrified "Kassai" wanders from hypnotic to downright psychedelic, while "Sunnyside" brings it home with a tropical groove flatly determined to avoid becoming easygoing or smooth.
Tao is full of dualities in all those ways, much like its colorful cover: simple and complex, exotic and highly listenable, bare-bones in format while busy and full in execution. Like the storytellers it pays homage to, AfuriKo has a lot to share, and whatever you think you hear at first is only scratching the surface.
A Step in the Storm; Oleleko; Rainbow Snake; Kassai; Up in the Air; Adzolowoe; Trace of Peach; In B Town; Sunnyside.
Akiko Horii: percussion; Jim Funnell: piano, keyboards.
| Year Released: 2019
| Record Label: AfuriKo