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.

Introduction To 45 rpm Record Collecting

As a deejay and music collector, I purchase as many 45’s as I buy LP’s. Columbia Records copyrighted the term LP (Long Playing) so, let’s use the word ‘album’ going forward. You can say that there is more sense in buying albums instead of a 45 rpm (revolutions per minute). You receive the completed studio work in the order the artist intends you to listen, you have more tracks on the medium, and you don’t have to change or turn the record after one song. However, I do not always agree that an album is always the better choice. 45’s have many advantages compared to albums.

45 rpm record from my collection

The first advantage of a 45 is the higher sound quality. Of course, this is my point of view what is open for discussion. The sound quality of a 45 can be explained by looking into the record surface, playing speed, and track times. On an album, played at 33 1/3 rpm, and with a surface dimension of 12 inches, you will have about 30 minutes of music. A 45 (when talking about a 7-inch single) has a surface dimension of 7 inches, is being played at 45 rpm, and contains about 3 minutes of music. When manufacturing an album, the grooves are very narrow and tightly curved because there should be room for 30 minutes of great music. For a 45, where you only need 3 minutes of music on one side, the grooves are spread out more widely what allows them to be pressed deeper. Like this, more information can be stored. And with more information stored, the audio level of a 45 doesn’t need to be toned down (this is done with some albums to avoid audio cross-over) what makes the sounds quality of a 45 superior.

It’s no surprise that audiophile companies are reissuing classic Jazz records at 45 rpm. Because of the tiny curves on the album’s surface, it is hard for the cartridge to track everything. Fine details, which are so important in Jazz music, can get blur. You can lose the feeling of the bass player sitting next to you because you no longer can hear the fingers sliding over the strings.

A good example of this is the famous Jazz Record label Blue Note. By using the original master tapes, Blue Note records are, in cooperation with Music Matters Jazz and Analogue Productions, reissuing albums on a 45 rpm double-12-inch vinyl. The so-called ‘Blue Note Sound’ was the creation of Rudy Van Gelder, a sound engineer who started to record Jazz musicians in the early 1950s. Van Gelder’s goal was to recreate live Jazz into his recordings. It was much later, in 1994, when the idea came to reissue Blue Note albums at 45 rpm. Mike Hobson and Michael Cuscuna started cutting 45 rpm test pressings and as expected, they sounded much better.

Rudy Van Gelder in the control room of his studio

Playing at 45 rpm is faster than playing at 33 1/3 and therefore, one original album of one disc (33 1/3 rpm) needs to be converted into 2 discs at 45 rpm. It went even further, Blue Note never stopped innovating and improving the sound experience. In some tests, they had better sound quality on a single-sided record. Meaning that grooves were pressed on one side, and the other side stayed blank. The result of this is that 1 original double-sided album was repressed on 4 single-sided 45 rpm discs of 12 inches. Although audiophiles agree that the sound is better, these albums were expensive to buy and it is not so common to find them in your local record store.

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue ‎(2xLP, Album, Ltd, RE, 45 rpm) released on Blue Note and Analogue Productions

Another great advantage of 45’s is that there is much more great music available on 45 rpm. For the genres I play during sets, mainly soul and rhythm-and-blues from the 1950s through the 1960s, there is more music out there on 45 rpm. The main reason for this is that the smaller independent labels were contracting artists to record one track. A 45 was pressed and released and depending on the success, artists were offered a contract to record an album. For many of them, the success was too low to record and release on a full album (songs may have been released on later compilation albums). Just one example is the artist under the name Little Mummy. Little Mummy only recorded two tracks for Federal Records in New Orleans, Louisiana. The titles ‘Where You At Jack‘ and ‘Oh Baby Please’ were distributed in 1960 and repressed decades later because of the growing success. If his music would have been acknowledged during his life span, this artist may have recorded several albums that would find its place next to rhythm-and-blues greats such as The Drifters, The Coasters, and Jackie Wilson.

Little Mummy’s only release – white original label on the left, later repress on the right.

It is also more convenient for deejays to use 45 rpm singles during sets. You don’t have to carefully place the needle in between the grooves of an album as you only have one track on each side of a 45. The records are smaller in size what makes handling and transportation easier.

To conclude, as a deejay I prefer playing 45’s because of its superior quality, music assortment, and easy handling during sets. But don’t misunderstand me, I love albums equally! Full 12-inch albums offer better record sleeves with impressive cover art, you can listen from start to finish in the order the artists intends you to, and originals are often in better condition because they were handled with more care (45 were often used in radio stations and jukeboxes). For me, the choice of format is really subject to the purpose and music genre.

Some record collectors are more attracted to the original or first pressing of the 45. There is more to it than just the music it contains. A record can represent part of history. Owning part of this history can give more meaning to the music and its origin. As a listener it offers more value knowing its past. The reasons why we collect can be better explained in an anthropology study and I believe that each collector has its own motive. I collect vinyl records to better understand the music. By researching and educating myself, I came to understand its history, its development, its origin, and the influence it has on modern-day music. Listening to music became more valuable since the day I started to collect. Let’s say that, as an example, you watch the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, a portrait of the life of Nina Simone by Liz Garbus. After understanding the life of Nina Simone, I listen to her songs in a completely different way. I’m now able to understand her reasons for making music what adds its value.

In some situations, owning the original or first pressing is a must. This is the case for collectors of Northern Soul records. To better understand this, we need to have a deeper look at the history and meaning of Northern Soul.

Northern Soul is a subculture that originated in North England during the late 1960s and through the 1970s. It is powered by uptempo American soul music from the mid-1960s. Many young modernists were not convinced of the development of soul music into disco and funk. They kept a preference for the uptempo American soul music. Today it’s common to stream any song you’d like to hear, but back in the days, you had to go to your local club to listen to the songs played by deejays. The success of a deejay had a lot to do with their collection of 45’s and their ability to locate and find them. The scene was based on non-commercial lost and forgotten soul records. Many songs that were popular in the Northern Soul scene, were recorded by smaller independent labels and because of that, there are not too many in circulation. A deejay owning a song that was loved by the crowd would make him unique. Northern Soul fans, mainly the young working middle-class, would go to clubs to dance to these unique soul records. There was also a lot of competition between deejays and clubs. Deejays would often scratch off the label to keep the title secret. The Northern Soul scene is also characterized by its own unique dance. People would fill the room individually and perform light and smooth footwork with the occasional turn, drop, or karate-kick.

The Northern Soul scene still exists today and one would say it is even bigger than before. Around the world people are organizing All-Nighters where Northern Soul deejays and collectors can share their rare music collection. It was already unique to own certain 45’s back in the 1970s and this has not changed. These days, rare Northern Soul 45’s are worth a couple of hundred dollars and in some cases, a couple of thousand.

The rarest original Northern Soul 45 rpm record is ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson (1965). It is said that only 6 copies of the record were printed and their purpose was to promote the song at radio stations. Out of those 6 copies, only 2 are still in existence and only 1, is in playable condition. this record was sold in auction for over $30,000.

The story behind this is not fully confirmed but many believe that it was Berry Gordy, the founder of the Motown records label, who ordered the copies to be destroyed and who blocked the official release of the song. Frank Wilson was hired as a producer by Motown but in return, he had to renounce his musical career. However, he moved forward with the pressing of his promo single for ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’. This was not appreciated by Berry Gordy and, he ordered the destruction of the pressed records. However, two records survived and in 1977 the song reappeared in the Northern Soul dance scene. The record’s rarity and its original soul sound is what made it one of the most popular songs in Northern Soul and in 1979, the record was officially released to the public by Tamla Motown.

On the left, you can see the promo records. It was signed by Frank Wilson himself with the words “to Kenny” referring to the previous owner. On the right, you can see the official release by Tamla Motown

‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson – promo on the left (1965), official release on the right (1979)