Jazzelectro Sounds: Live from Birmingham, England
In the gaps between tunes, DJ Charlie Dark offered a brief life story, reminiscing about his early encounters with the music of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. It's these sections of his record collection that have inspired the African Beats tour, as Dark hits the road with a one-off live band that might just get it together again in the future. He's often the man who sets off a song, triggering beats which are bolstered by Mark De Clive-Lowe's own twitchy fingerings, before the keyboardist moves to the Fender Rhodes, which is groaning under the weight of his sampling apparatus. The percussive web is further thickened by Richard Olatunde and Chief Udoh Essiet, the latter having played many gigs with Kuti and Ade, in times of old.
They're juggling between congas, talking drum and the tiniest frame drums possible, and the whole band's bass thrust risks turning into a clogging glue, out of which will emerge a headbanging funk bump, setting off guitarist David Okumu on an Afro-spangling spree. He's managing to take the raw matter of soukous, juju and Afrobeat, splicing these stylistic traits onto those of his own jazz-funk heritage. Okumu ends up with a further evolution of these forms. After an uncertain beginning, Dark's fusion grows a forceful momentum, and the quintet ends up with a chunky Afro-funk that steals from Kuti and Ade, but not without adding its own modernising benefits.
The Grande Mothers Of Invention at The Robin 2
It's a rare occurrence for a combo that devotes itself to the music of Frank Zappa to disappoint its audience. This is because if such a band elects to tackle such a substantially complex repertoire as this, it's usually the case that they're feeling pretty damned confident regarding their musical abilities. This state is magnified immensely when an outfit revolves around three original Mothers Of Invention. Saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock, keyboardist Don Preston and bassist Roy Estrada are touring with drummer Chris Garcia and guitarist Miroslav Tadic, reinterpreting Zappa's works with an astounding level of energy and precision. Preston and Estrada were part of the oldest Mothers line-up, whilst Brock's period spanned 1974- 1984.
There's an understandable concentration on the Overnite Sensation and One Size Fits All albums, with Brock revisiting his original tight-trousered vocal role on the latter. Curiously, there are some numbers where none of the threesome were part of the original sessions, but this gap doesn't prevent them from delivering some classic perversion-of-the-Zappa moments. There are even a few Captain Beefheart frissons, with a showing from "Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy," from the Bongo Fury collaboration album, plus an incorporation of his poem, "Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish." These are getting to be old men, but they look and behave like much younger beings. This being the final night of their UK tour, the Mothers are tight indeed, and visibly enraptured.