Tony Allen, Great Lake Swimmers | Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park | Rock, Pop, Etc, International | Chicago Reader

Tony Allen, Great Lake Swimmers Free Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Mon., June 14, 6:30 p.m. 2010

Fela Kuti died nearly 13 years ago, but the Afrobeat sound he developed seems more ubiquitous than ever—not just in Africa but around the world. And no one keeps the faith like drummer Tony Allen—not only was he Kuti's coconspirator in the creation of Afrobeat's signature groove, he's also true to his old boss's progressive instincts. Over the past two decades he's led Afrobeat through all kinds of mutations—from the electronica-kissed 2000 album Black Voices to the late-aughts rock supergroup the Good, the Bad & the Queen with Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, and Simon Tong—but regardless of the setting, his distinctive playing cuts right through. Allen merges James Brown funk with jazz, highlife, and traditional West African rhythms, and his calling card is a doubled-up kick-drum accent that's weighted like a heartbeat, pinning his grooves solidly to the earth no matter how intricate his syncopations and permutations get up top. Last year he played in a band assembled by oddball Finnish saxist, singer, and composer Jimi Tenor on the surprisingly great Inspiration Information 4 (Strut), almost single-handedly dictating the album's loose, dance-crazy feel—even Tenor's wan falsetto sounded good. More recently Allen and his own killer group—which includes one of his principal collaborators, keyboardist and producer Fixi—cut Secret Agent (World Circuit/Nonesuch), a fluid dose of Afrobeat that emphasizes different elements of the style from one track to the next. It's such a rock-solid sound that its power stands up to every tweak—including the incongruous accordion Fixi busts out on a few tracks. —Peter Margasak

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