Tony Allen / Hugh Masekela

Rejoice

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It should surprise no one who has ever followed the music of Nigerian drummer Tony Allen and/or South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela that this session exists. Though the great trumpeter passed away in 2018, his seven-decade-long career was filled with musical adventure across genres. For Allen, a co-creator of Afrobeat and a true progenitor of 21st century Afro-funk, innovation, experimentation, change, and disruption have been part of the game since he began playing. They were introduced to one another by Fela Kuti in the '70s and remained friends. The pair had talked for decades about making an album, and in 2010 they found time in between touring schedules to begin this project. Producer Nick Gold, acclaimed for numerous world music productions including The Buena Vista Social Club, recorded the meeting. These unfinished sessions sat untouched in the archives until Masekela's passing. With the blessing and assistance of Masekela's estate, Gold and Allen unearthed the original tapes and finished the recording in 2019 at the same London studio. They also hired London jazz mainstays in keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, bassists Tom Herbert and Mutale Chashi, and saxophonist Steve Williamson. The brightly designed cover is a dead cross between John Coltrane's Ole and Solomon Ilori's African High Life sleeves.

What transpires is not pure Afrobeat, the relentlessly danceable music from Lagos, but instead a "chamber" version of it, alongside swinging modern jazz, spidery, skeletal funk, and South African township groove combined. Masekela's singing, chanting, and wonderfully inventive trumpet lines blend effortlessly with Allen's drums digging into primal source rhythms and articulating them with a maestro's flair at the center of the mix. Opener "Robbers, Thugs and Muggers" is grounded in a sung chant directed at Allen's propulsive snare skitter and hi-hat washes. It's answered by Masekela's bluesy horn, cutting across hard bop, jive, and folk, quoting from "Eleanor Rigby" for good measure. Armon-Jones' Rhodes piano enters later as Allen ratchets the intensity from a simmer to a slow boil. "Agbada Bougou" delivers a funky Afrobeat backbeat as Masekela and Williamson offer modal melodies atop a funky bassline. "Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same)" is actually a mutant take on Afrobeat. With Masekela chanting "Lagos never gonna be the same/Never/ Without Fela…" Armon-Jones adds funky Rhodes over a driving electric bassline, punchy trumpet fills, hand percussion, and bubbling, snaky drums. "Jabulani (Rejoice, Here Comes Tony)" has Armon-Jones' vibes playing counter fills around Masekela's call-and-response phrasing and Allen's almost mystifying circular rhythmic improvisation. "Slow Bones" spotlights a tough sax and horn dialogue. Closer and first single "We've Landed" finds Masekela joining Allen's ritualized, incantatory drumming by quoting Miles Davis -- even riffing on the melodic vamp from "Black Satin" at one point -- with his bell-like tone and blues-drenched phrasing. No matter what lengths Gold and Allen went to, to complete Rejoice, the core playing, and camaraderie are peerless, and therefore justified. This is a fitting postscript and testament to Masekela's legend, and the music on this date, while historic, is absolutely defined by its title.

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