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Take Five: Tony Allen Finds His Groove, Brian Landrus Goes Big, and Two Duos Take Flight

Bernard Benant
Tony Allen

Tony Allen, “Wolf Eats Wolf”

Tony Allen, the great Nigerian drummer, made his Blue Note Records debut this spring with A Tribute to Art Blakey, a digital EP. Now Allen, the reigning architect of Afrobeat, has announced a full-length album on the label, The Source. It’s due out on Sept. 8, and you can listen now to a hypnotic lead single, “Wolf Eats Wolf.”

Allen, who turns 77 in a few weeks, has lived to see his sinuous, floating-funk rhythmic signature — the heartbeat of Fela Kuti’s monumental Africa 70 band — become a form of global currency. For The Source, he teamed up with a veteran collaborator, saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz; every track bears their joint composer credit. “Wolf Eats Wolf” bears all the hallmarks of a classic Afrobeat tune, with chirpy rhythm playing by the Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue and a suave trombone solo by Daniel Zimmermann. But in a palpable sense, the star of the track is Allen’s groove, which has a locomotive buoyancy even when he strays from the beat, in what can only be described as a form of jazz improvisation. 

Brian Landrus Orchestra, “Orchids”

The baritone saxophonist and composer Brian Landrus knows his way around a billowing canvas, and with Generations — his new album, due out on Friday on his BlueLand label — he finds an appropriate outlet for his ambitions. The album features a 25-piece ensemble full of expert colorists, including trumpeter Ralph Alessi, flutist Jamie Baum and violinists Mark Feldman and Joyce Hammann. And the orchestration feels fully fleshed, rather than a well-meaning collision of jazz and classical ideas. The album’s tour de force is a four-part “Jeru Concerto,” but you can get a concise distillation of what Landrus is up to via “Orchids,” which begins with Brandee Younger’s harp glissandi, features a graceful vibraphone solo by Joe Locke, and gradually accrues both density and momentum, in a gold-plated dub groove. 

Dominique Eade and Ran Blake

The fearless singer Dominique Eade and the fathomless pianist Ran Blake are longtime colleagues at the New England Conservatory of Music, and in 2011 they released a beautiful album together, Whirlpool. But there’s something deeper at work on their new effort, Town and Country, recently released on Sunnyside.

Loosely speaking, it’s an album of American song, meaning an album of songs that cohere around the American idea. There are folksongs both harrowing (“West Virginia Mine Disaster,” by Jean Ritchie) and wry (“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” by Bob Dylan). There are standards drawn from the Harry Smith Folk Anthology as well as Tin Pan Alley. And then there’s “Give My Love to Rose,” a grim narrative ballad by Johnny Cash, which Eade sings with empathetic stoicism, while Blake fills in the heartbreaking picture, flickering calmly between consonance and dissonance.

Ralph Bowen, “A Pandemonium of Parrots”

"A Pandemonium of Parrots," by Ralph Bowen

Credit Joel W. Henderson
Ralph Bowen

Saxophonist Ralph Bowen has been an inspired workhorse in the swinging jazz mainstream for decades, and he’s not the type of musician who needs a guiding concept to move things forward. His self-titled new album, however, just out on Posi-Tone, does feature an evocative centerpiece: “The Phylogeny Suite,” whose six movements are named for various terms of animal groupings. So for instance, we have “A Rookery of Ravens” and “A Flamboyance of Flamingos.” This track is called “A Pandemonium of Parrots,” and while it doesn’t attempt to literalize the cacophony, it does have a bright, chattering quality that suits its inspiration. Bowen takes the lead commandingly, but he has stalwart support from his rhythm section: bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Cliff Almond, and pianist Jim Ridl, whose solo is a keeper.

Kevin Hays and Lionel Loueke, “Hope”

I’ve written here before about Hope, a new duo album by guitarist Lionel Loueke and pianist Kevin Hays. I just received my copy from Newvelle Records, and it’s marvelous: a duo collaboration of rare intuitive accord, with searching improvisations that always honor the dimensions of a song. The catch is that Newvelle only sells its music on vinyl, by subscription. But this video features the title track, accompanied by footage from several far-flung locations — Hyderabad, India; Santa Cruz, Costa Rica; and Brisbane, Australia — where Hays has traveled in recent years. “For me these images connect to the album’s message of our interwoven destinies as human beings,” he notes, “inseparable and dependent on the natural world and how we can shine through even in the midst of struggle.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to the Brian Landrus Orchestra album Generations as an ArtistShare release. At one point it was, but Landrus has released the album on his own label, BlueLand.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.