Jazz drummer Tony Allen, innovator of Afrobeat music with Fela Kuti’s band in the late 60s and 70s, returns to center stage with a new album. “The Source” is an energetic celebration of the history of jazz and african music, led by Allen’s unparalleled drumwork. Described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived,” Allen lays down an album that delights at every turn with polished melodies and and exciting changes. It’ll bring you out of your seat.
Now based in Paris, Nigerian-born Allen has played on a seemingly endless stream of recordings. “The Source” is his debut LP for the legendary jazz record label Blue Note Records, following a tribute EP to Art Blakey, and he packs as much power behind the kit as ever. Retracing his roots to the album’s namesake, “The Source,” Allen documents the sounds of jazz far and wide, implementing a wide range of styles into his sound. No one in the jazz world seems better suited for this than Allen, the reigning king of Afrobeat influence.
Album opener “Moody Boy” invites us on Allen’s voyage into the past. In an extended intro of rolling piano and horn flourishes, the band seems to be catapulting us into its trip through time, back to the “The Source.” A minute and half in we enter the groove and don’t look back. This is not the future. This is the past arriving with all its might.
Standout track “Wolf Eat Wolf” summons the classic sound of Fela Kuti and Africa ‘70 back to the table, with circulating guitar lines and funky organ that drive alongside Allen’s absolutely infectious drumming patterns. Allen finds hidden lines of rhythm and complements horn melodies effortlessly, practicing both restraint and forceful playing in equal measure. By the song’s end the horn section is in full force, discovering New Orleans-style arrangements that feel like pure celebration.
“The Source” was recorded old school too – purely on analog gear from the studio to cutting the record. This not only affects the album’s sound but also its feel too. The approach of Allen and his impressive roster of jazz cats hearkens back to the glory days of jazz, before synths and other digital gear made their mark on the scene. With fifty years of experience behind him, Allen makes jazz cool and bravado look easy, lounging on an album cover that looks like it could’ve been made in the 60s.
“Cool Cats” comes draped in ethereal piano and drives forward in a celebration of afrofunk vibes. Allen and his band are experts at blending together the influences of jazz and Africana into a spectacular package, the sound spiraling together into a potent brew of vintage cool jazz and Nigerian groove.
It’s a joy to listen to, especially for those who want a little taste of the classic mid-century jazz sound seen through an African lens.