In a week replete with intriguing cross-pollinations of style and sound, this may be both the most deliberate, yet the loosest-sounding.
Triggered by a bonding session aboard an airplane bound for Lagos, it features a core alliance of Damon Albarn with Afrobeat drum genius Tony Allen and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, the basic trio extended through various international guests.
The basic sound is sketched out on the opening "1-2-3-4-5-6", with Allen and Flea setting up a six-beat groove over which Albarn layers descending bleeps and counterpoint keyboard melody lines of a flavour that recalls Gorillaz. But it all comes together more fruitfully on the ensuing "Hey, Shooter", where the light Afrobeat pulse and bubbling funk bass are topped with noodling synth figures and horn stabs by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, with Erykah Badu adding a space-jazz vocal like June Tyson's declamations on Sun Ra albums: "I wish you well on your journey to the sun," she sings, "Drink your rocket juice, fly away".
From there, it gets more fecund than ever. In between further Afrobeat electro-jazz dubs like "Night Watch" and "Rotary Connection", other collaborators impose their distinctive personalities. "Lolo" features Malian sensation Fatoumata Diawara jousting with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble over a shuffling funk groove, with Ghanaian rapper M.anifest adding the first of several sharp, articulate raps about time, life and beliefs. The same personnel reassemble for "Follow-Fashion", with itchy guitar cycling restlessly over a lightly propulsive groove. "Take a leap of faith," advises M.anifest, perhaps inspired by the impromptu methods. "On words my wings spread."
While Albarn is largely responsible for the melodic direction of the songs – the wheezing, vaguely Middle Eastern-flavoured synth on "Worries" is a particular delight – Allen's contribution is simply immense. Throughout, he gives a masterclass in how to effect maximum propulsion with minimum amplitude. There's no thumping great beats here, strong-arming you on to the dancefloor; instead, like a great jazz drummer, he employs the subtlest of snare work, setting up skittish rhythms that ensnare, rather than enslave. Perhaps influenced by Allen, Flea's basslines have a similarly light, bubbly touch, only approaching the punch of his Chili Peppers work to carry the staccato monochord keyboard line of "Check Out".
Albarn gets assistance from Malian keyboardist Cheick Tidiane Seck on "Extinguished" and "There", the pair layering idiosyncratic, even perverse, synth lines which don't quite cohere on the former, but which, when allied to the syncopated horns and tight groove of "There", create a bizarre, indefinable musical blend that confirms the value of this type of collaborative exercise. (Ironically, one of the weakest tracks is that which most foregrounds Albarn's contribution, the flaccid ballad "Poison".) As several of this week's albums show, it's not isolationist purity that breeds musical strength and inventiveness, but selective cross-breeding; and when the elements are this select, the results can reach places which didn't exist before.
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