If you know your drummers, then you definitely know Art Blakey, one of the most influential drummers during jazz’s bebop and hard bop heydays of the 40’s and 50’s.
He was also one of the busiest drummers of the era, working with Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and other giants before forming his own legendary group, The Jazz Messengers (which in turn spawned such greats as Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan, among others).
As a drumming afficionado, you also may know Tony Allen, who provided the percussion backbone for Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, and who is credited as a co-founder of the Afrobeat genre.
Born in Lagos, Allen was influenced by plenty of African percussionists, but also studied jazz greats like Max Roach and the aforementioned Blakey. Knowing this genealogy takes Allen’s trademark Afrobeat style to another level; the influence of those legends is obvious in Allen’s playing for Fela.
All of this is a very roundabout way of bringing to your attention Allen’s just-released 4-track tribute to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (out now on Bluenote). This too-brief homage perfectly balances Allen simply “covering” Blakey, and drawing a clear line to how he incorporated some of Blakey’s style into his own Afrobeat oeuvre.
Whether you’re into jazz, Afrobeat, or both (and maybe even neither), there’s a lot for your ears to take in here, all of it excellent. As an example, check out Allen’s version of the Blakey classic “Moanin’”. Hear how he retains the easy, swinging energy of the original and makes it his own, yet never breaks the roots connection with Blakey.
No tribute is more loving than the one that takes the original in new directions, advancing the art without losing the original thread. Tony Allen’s love letter to Art Blakey pulls it off to near-perfection.