Jimi Tenor / Tony Allen - "Darker Side of Night" (Inspiration Information 4)
It’s almost impossible for a music wonk to give Tony Allen his due. The Nigerian drummer felt and created the beats that form the skeletal and nervous systems of Afropop, what we now call “African music.” And it’s hard to talk about Finnish assimilationist prankster Jimi Tenor without back-handedly mocking the guy. Since his comically overblown, intoxicatingly rich LP Out of Nowhere, he’s been a technically perfect parody of pretty much everything, and he’s been the unrepentant Bobby Conn of what we reluctantly call “world music.” Unbelievably talented and just way too fucking clever.
So! Let’s get them to collaborate and see what happens! Welcome to the third, and most fun, installment of Strut’s geek-gasmic “Inspiration Information” series. They’ll be on some other shit, man.
Weirdly enough, they are. Dudes from two different worlds can share a dysfunctional love for music. Between Tenor’s passion for pop order and backdoor affair with atonal chaos, and Allen’s relentless search for the perfect beat and deep sense of soulful melancholy, this collaboration is always intriguing and often sublime.
Tenor gets to fuck around a bit on the opener, “Against the Wall,” a polyrhythmic sex jam with a beat that straight-up hustles some horns, and a chorus that goes, “Lean against the wall / I’m gonna do it dancehall-style with you, baby / I got my tightest pants on.” Corny, yes, but so was last weekend.
After that exquisite red herring, the lines blur. “Sinuhe” plays the Afro-beat game until a few distinctly haunting horn notes come in and haunt the place, about 30 seconds in, and don’t stop. “Selfish Gene” creates a genuinely touching bad-guy lament out of a Richard Dawkins reference – it’s brilliant, but it wouldn’t have been shit without Allen’s… what’s the opposite of “tone-deaf”? Tony Allen has tone in his blood. And he obviously gets Tenor’s dry humor.
There are points where Tenor and Allen both magnanimously fade into the background, to let tracks such as the Joe-Frankish poetic, macro-political rant “Path to Wisdom” happen. And then they re-emerge with “Darker Side of Night,” an Afro-beat corker by any standard, ironic haircut or no. The 13-minute, one-mindfuck-at-a-time closer “Three Continents” refracts an Africa that no geographer would ever imagine.