Album: Tony Allen, Secret Agent (World Circuit)

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The Independent Culture

Secret Agent finds the man regarded by Brian Eno as "perhaps the greatest drummer ever" back on the Afrobeat territory he helped establish nearly half a century ago alongside Fela Kuti.

Tony Allen's drum style is deceptively subtle, stippling the groove with polyrhythmic nudges rather than pumping the backbeat – an indication of how deeply rooted his music is in jazz. The title track is typical: an infectious electric piano and wah-wah guitar intro heralds a warm horn arrangement driven almost imperceptibly along by Allen's relaxed, almost self-effacing snare shuffle; but the way the vocal chants and horn riffs egg each other on is quintessential Afrobeat – as is the way the horn parts of "Ijo" combine, with a staccato figure surfing atop a deep, burring baritone sax line. Less typical are the bleeping synthesiser and, particularly, the vamping accordion that add texture to the springy rhythm guitar bed, here and elsewhere. Lyrically, the songs continue the basic platform established by Fela, criticising political corruption, sympathising with those unjustly imprisoned, and offering support to the oppressed. But what the album really lacks is a figurehead vocal presence as commanding as the late band leader's: none of the myriad voices fronting these tracks wields anything like Fela's persuasive power.

Download this: 'Secret Agent', 'Ijo', 'Ayenlo', 'Elewon Po'