Tony Allen’s The Source – Afrobeat or Jazz?

Tony Allen’s 2017 mini-album release A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers was a unique opportunity to marry his afrobeat rhythms with Art Blakey’s hard bop influences. It also served as a forerunner for his full-length Blue Note debut The Source in which he further explores the relationship between African music and western jazz.

The long-time Fela Kuti drummer found inspiration in Art Blakey’s work. Fusing his afrobeat past with jazz gave him a chance to document his interpretations as a self-thought drummer. In The Source, Tony Allen continues to return to his jazz roots. This time, he explores a wider web of jazz influences. The album includes eleven tracks composed and arranged by Tony Allen and saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz.

“Tony has never played drums as well as this. He’s never had as much freedom, never had as much power as he does today.”

Yann Jankielewicz

Can we consider The Source a jazz album? The record company Blue Note is a landmark for jazz music. But they did not exclusively focus on jazz. They have a rich catalog of African music, often involving afrobeat or percussion rhythms. The album by Solomon Ilori titled African High Life is one example (Blue Note, 1963). Another is Art Blakey’s collaboration with The Afro-Drum Ensemble called The African Beat (Blue Note, 1962).

The Source can be seen as a crossover between Allen’s influential afrobeat past and his interpretation of jazz. Tony Allen recorded jazz-influenced albums on occasion. Apart from his tribute to Art Blakey and The Source, he also recorded the album Rejoice together with Hugh Masekela in 2010 (released in 2020). Blue Note Records also posthumous released the album There Is No End in April 2021. The album intends to be a platform for a new generation of rappers. Tony Allen passed away in 2020 and, although he proved his skills as a drummer, composer, and arranger, he didn’t have a chance to fully unfold his music repertoire with Blue Note Records.

Inner sleeve The Source on vinyl (Blue Note – 5768336)

Tony Allen’s Tribute To Art Blakey

Afrobeat legend and drummer, Tony Allen, was strongly influenced by the recordings of Art Blakey. For his first release on Blue Note Records, he pays a tribute to one of the greatest hard bop drummers in jazz history by blending hard bop with the afrobeat rhythmic subtlety. The recordings got released in May 2017. That year, Tony Allen continued returning to his jazz roots and, a couple of months later, he released his first full-length album on Blue Note titled The Source.

The recordings for the extended play of A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers were an opportunity to document his interpretations. “I’m trying to change the pages,” Allen explains during a live performance. Tony Allen plays afrobeat and, he does not compromise, even when playing jazz standards. In the mini-album, he shows his jazz side and the way he is fusing the genres.

Allen doesn’t actually “swing” at all on these four standards associated with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, instead putting each through his own Afrobeat prism.” London-based journalist and editor John Lewis explains in his review for The Guardian.

Moanin’ is reinvented in straight eighths, Politely is played in a rocking 6/8 rhythm, while A Night in Tunisia is transformed into a series of wonderfully jerky, disjointed riffs. Throughout, Allen’s Parisian septet improvises inventively around these unusual meters, most impressively on the Drum Thunder Suite, where one of Blakey’s many flirtations with West African music is, in turn, Africanised.

The release features four tracks associated with Art Blakey. It opens with Bobby Timmons’ celebrated composition Moanin’. The song got first recorded by Art Blakey’s band in 1958 and was released the following year on the album originally titled Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (BLP 4003). The Blue Note original album also includes Benny Golson’s and Art Blakey’s track The Drum Thunder Suite, which is the final and fourth song on Allen’s homage.

The second track is the signature piece of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop big band, A Night in Tunisia. The song has associations with Art Blakey thanks to trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was part of Gillespie’s band between 1956 and 1958. Morgan got spotlighted with his solo work during live performances of A Night in Tunisia. He joined Art Blakey’s band, and in 1961, they released the album titled A Night In Tunisia (BLP 4049). The album opens with a hard bop adaptation of Gillespie’s composition, giving the drums a significant solo status.

The third track is the jazz standard Politely, composed by trumpeter Bill Hardman. The song got originally released on the Blue Note album titled The Big Beat (BLP 4029) by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (released in 1960). Bill Hardman, who was part of The Jazz Messengers between 1956 and 1958 (called the “Second” Messengers), did not take part in the recordings. Instead, Lee Morgan, who was the main trumpeter of The Jazz Messengers between 1959 and 1961, provided the trumpet line.

Youthful Enthusiasm: The Cooker by Lee Morgan

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was only 19 years old when he led the recording of his Blue Note original album titled The Cooker. The album is a demonstration of Morgan’s early bop-oriented influence and contains improvisation that communicates to the listener. He is playing with a kind of youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Morgan plays exceptionally well for his age. When comparing this album to his previous work, we can notice the speedy development of his skills as a musician and bandleader. Lee Morgan will soon grow to become the greatest hard bop trumpeter in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was also his mentor. He hired the 18-year-old Lee Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band. Morgan’s solo work was spotlighted during the many live performances of A Night In Tunisia, a Gillespie original and signature of bebop. The Cooker opens with this song, and his solo for this album is claimed to be the best recording of Morgan’s career.

Aside from performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Morgan also recorded in the studio during that time. He recorded several albums with jazz icons Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. His most notable work is the recording of Coltrane’s Blue Train in 1957 (Blue Note 1577), which got recorded in the same studio, and only 2 weeks before Morgan recorded The Cooker.

In 1958, Gillespie’s band split, and Morgan joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers where he continued to develop his talents, now mainly as a composer. He brought a new potential to the band as they returned to Blue Note and released the jazz standard Moanin’ (composed by Bobby Timmons).

The Cooker got recorded in the Van Gelder Studio on September 29, 1957. It was the fifth Blue Note recording of the young trumpeter as a leader. He got the support from bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, who he knew from the Blue Train recordings two weeks earlier. Pepper Adams joins on the baritone saxophone, and Bobby Timmons sits behind the piano during this vigorous recording session.

The album (BLP 1578) got released in March the following year. It features five tracks including A Night In Tunisia (D. Gillespie), Heavy Dipper (L. Morgan), Just One Of Those Things (C. Porter), Lover Man (R. Ramirez), and New-Ma (L. Morgan).

In April 2020 the album got reissued as part of the Blue Note Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series (Blue Note 81578). An initiative from Blue Note Records President Don Was. It’s a reissue series of all-analog vinyl records mastered from the original master tapes.

Digging the Archives: Previously Unissued Jazz Recordings

There are various reasons for record companies to decide not to release an album. Labels such as Blue Note recorded more than they could release and had to prioritize. Sometimes recordings remained unfinished and would be completed when the time is right. Live recordings nobody knew existed surfaced decades later and were released to continue the musician’s legacy.

Here are five unissued jazz recordings that were released recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Blue Note Records

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto

Recorded in 1964 – Released 2020 / Impulse Records

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

Tony Allen And Hugh Masekela – Rejoice

Recorded 2010 – Released 2020 / World Circuit Records

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela and drummer Tony Allen met in the seventies thanks to their associations with Fela Kuti (Africa ’70). In the decades to come, they talked about making an album together. In 2010, producer Nick Gold took the opportunity and recorded the encounter.

The recording remained unfinished and got stored in the archives. With Hugh Masekela’s passing in 2018, Tony Allen and Nick Gold continued working on the original tapes during the summer of 2019. They finished the recording at the same studio where the original sessions took place, the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The album got released in 2020.

John Coltrane ‎– Blue World

Recorded 1964 – Released 2019 / Impulse Records

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcomed. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year. 

The recording was commissioned for the film Le Chat Dans Le Sac and after the movie was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time OutTakes

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Brubeck Editions

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies.

Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

Please visit the following articles for more details about each album: