Secret Agent - Tony Allen
Everything old is new again. Check the concert listings of your city’s free weekly music rag. You’ll probably see gig ads for a half dozen or more big, full-on funk bands that also specialize in ‘afrobeat’, now that world music has become de rigor. But, there’s a big difference between horn-driven bombast and the subtle underlying jazz ethic that exemplifies the cool afrobeat vibe pioneered by Nigerian bandleader, Fela Kuti and the quintessential cadence of his drummer, Tony Allen. It’s a question of pacing the pulse, establishing the message and drawing out the punctuation points. Patience is a virtue which few North American students of the form come to understand and appreciate. There’s a rush to get down amongst the youngsters that doesn’t allow the sweet foreplay of the funk to establish itself first. Not with Tony Allen, the master of the craft and still in the finest of forms on the new release, Secret Agent. The raw, edgy album’s vintage authenticity is betrayed only by the 21st century fidelity. Allen works with an international octet of players (who also form his touring band), and his Parisian co-producer/arranger, Fixi whose accordion adds one of many surprises to the uncut afrobeat. “Fela wrote like a singer, I write like a drummer,” declares the rhythm-meister who Brian Eno gushes, “is the best drummer in the world”. Allen’s prowess drives the 11 tracks, expertly dishing it straight-up as well as playing around the time to tighten up the tension. There is a ‘70s-era cult classic soundtrack air to Secret Agent which World Circuit capitalizes on with the wonderful retro-graphics on the packaging. Allen secures his reputation as an international man of intrigue with a license to kill, or at least create killer afrobeat.