Nigerian drummer and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen collaborates with veteran techno great Jeff Mills | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Nigerian drummer and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen collaborates with veteran techno great Jeff Mills 

click to enlarge Tony Allen, Jean-Phi Dary, and Jeff Mills

Tony Allen, Jean-Phi Dary, and Jeff Mills

Jacob Khrist

As drummer and musical director of Africa 70, Tony Allen was the rhythmic architect of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat style. Last year the Nigerian drummer reinforced the malleability of his instantly recognizable approach with The Source, his first album for legendary jazz imprint Blue Note. Earlier in the year he dropped a digital EP on the label that featured interpretations of tunes by hard-bop outfit Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, but for his full-length he fashioned a new project highlighting a dynamic blend of his stuttery, snare-driven attack with an agile, horn-rich nonet. The band, which is based in Paris, kicks up plenty of funky grit, heaps on wonderfully concise horn solos steeped in the Ellingtonian swing and postbop tradition, and taps into bits of sleek blues, sultry R&B, and spry New Orleans-style second-line brass music. Allen’s skills as a composer are impressive—he cowrote each pithy tune—but though the general complexion of the album shows an unexpected side of his personality, that telltale snare patter meshed with a doubled-up kick-drum accent lets any listener know who’s keeping time. At first, the idea of a collaboration between Allen and veteran techno producer Jeff Mills—who generally crafts lean electronic music distinguished by a punishing, relentless velocity—struck me as odd. I still can’t really imagine what they do together, but if anyone can find a way to make it work it’s Allen; he’s previously worked with artists as disparate as Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, French hip-hop producer Doctor L., and Damon Albarn, who contributes innocuous piano on The Source’s “Cool Cats.” Allen and Mills have been performing together in Europe over the last year, but this show is their North American debut as a duo.   v

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