Who Is This America?

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On its first album for the illustrious Rope a Dope label, the Brooklyn-based Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra continues to mine the deep sonic and political fields first breached by the late Fela Kuti. This is deep funk Afro-beat, full of deep, fat horns, trance-like pumping bass, snaky guitars, and hypno-groove percussion. In addition to the orchestra, which numbers 14 pieces, the band adds another ten guests in various places and extrapolates its chunky, funky Afro-beat sound by grafting it on to Latin beats and, in the longer pieces, elliptical modal considerations. The album begins with the manifesto "Who Is This America Dem Speak of Today?" Stuttering guitar lines insist on ushering the quantum rhythms before the horns kick it into pure hypno-groove. Amayo's vocals are pure righteousness as the track winds back on itself three times before it eclipses at 12 minutes. The wildest thing here is saxophonist Stuart Bogie's "Indictment," with its jagged-edged, hard shadowy funk where muted trombones, keyboards, and even strings collide in a loose backbone twist-o-flex groove before the vocals come in to lay down the law with rage and authority. The final two cuts on the set, "Elephant," with its entwined organ, synth-bass, and horn lines that become a ghostly, post-midnight Afro- Latin dance jam, and B.E. Mann's killer dub-inflected "Sister," account for over half-an-hour of the disc's total playing time. The two are consistent in the way they gradually and purposefully unfold into labyrinthine considerations that are deeply textured, multi-valent exercises in intervallic groove and shimmer, allowing the band's jazz pedigree to articulate itself more fully. Antibalas may have begun its recording career by paying tribute to the nearly overwhelming influence of Fela, but as this disc attests, the band has been carving out its own space from other traditions as well, and has developed a grand woven-basket design that bears the group's signature exclusively. This is its best effort yet.

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