Musicians, Programmers and Engineers


The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 2: Omo Obokun by Ayetoro

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Offering exciting new directions in music by composer Funsho Ogundipe, this album by Afrobeat/Jazz group Ayetoro marries jazz harmonies with African rhythms and features an eclectic group of musicians from Nigeria, from Chile, from London and from the north of England. I co-produced the album with the composer and recorded this between February and May 2006 at my project studio in north London. The album features guest appearances from the UK's leading jazz guitarist, Jim Mullen, and other high-calibre UK musicians such as Byron Wallen and Frank Tontoh.

A 'fly-on-the-wall' view...

There were more than 20 players involved, including some of the most creative young musicians I have come across. It is difficult to pick any of the musicians out for special mention, but Shabaka Hutchings did make a big impression with his bass clarinet, Byron Wallen played some amazing trumpet, and, of course, Funsho Ogundipe put his stamp on all his compositions with his supportive yet thought-provoking keyboard work and warm, gentle vocals.

The album opens with "Pepple Street Blues". Built on Oroh Angiama's fluid basslines and featuring some tasteful guitar from Jim Mullen, who also appears on "Open your eyes... " and "", this is a refreshing approach to the blues with clean piano work from Funsho and some great African percussion.

"" features the gorgeous sound of the bass clarinet, played by Shabaka Hutchings, bringing a very unusual character to the album. After all, how often do you get to hear this instrument featured in all its glory? Jim Mullen sounds reminiscent of George Benson on this track while composer Funsho Ogundipe plays some interesting piano lines.

Two of the recordings, "Mr. XYZ" and "Revenge of the Flying Monkeys", feature electric bass, congas, talking drum and a brass section, with one trumpet and two tenor saxes, that were originally recorded in Lagos about five years previously. Piano, drums and other instruments were overdubbed onto these recordings at 'Jazz' Studio in Wood Green. Ghanaian Kwesi Frimpong makes an appearance on "Mr. XYZ", making bold statements in his own language and in Swahili over a driving bassline before the brass section adds its power. On this track, Rob Lavers brings jazz improvisation 'to the party', playing baritone sax and flute while the bass player and conga player move around incessantly, following their moods.

Funsho weaves in and out between everything using Wurlitzer piano to great effect while drummer Pharoah Russell binds it all together to keep your feet moving. "Revenge of the Flying Monkeys" is similarly built around a strong bassline with prominent brass riffs. This track brings Funsho more to the foreground playing Steinway piano - just listen to the interplay between his solo lines and the percussion! I have rarely heard piano parts so confidently and clearly stated!

The rest of the recordings were developed in the studio from 'live' material that had been performed previously at gigs and from new conceptions that arrived during the sessions. "Highlife #2" features another great rhythm section with Nick Cohen, aka 'The Dice Man', on electric bass and the exceptionally talented Mr. Frank Tontoh on drums. The added interest here is Nigerian 'Griot' percussionist Dayo Rasaq-Ayandele playing Omele and Bata drums with Cuban-trained Chilean percussionist Angela Paz-Al-Hucima playing Congas, Shekere and Clave.

One of the 'deepest' sounding tracks is called "Open your eyes... and your ears too." On this track, the same team, minus Dayo, takes things into new dimensions with some outstanding percussion from Angela and wild saxophone from Shabaka in the middle section. Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos overdubbed by the composer provide clusters of sound to complement the outpourings of the sax while 'The Dice Man and Tonto' relentlessly underpin the whole 'bitches brew'. The final section almost enters 'dub' territory with the drums leading the way along the path with guitar, saxophone and keyboards 'having their say' while Angela's percussion perfectly complements the drummer's expert cymbal work.

"Labe Igi Orombo" and "Oga!" both feature Funsho Ogundipe on vocals. "Oga!", sung in 'pidgin English', picks up into a 'cool' baritone sax solo that leads to a rap by Yusuf Rimdep before finishing off with more 'cool' baritone. "Labe Igi Orombo", again featuring the bass and drums of Nick Cohen and Frank Tontoh augmented by interesting Latin and African percussion, is sung, gently, in the Nigerian language.

The haunting title track, "Omo Obokun", has a trio of Chilean Bata drummers led by Angela Paz-Al-Hucima playing rhythms from Nigeria that travelled centuries ago to South America, complemented by Dayo Rasaq-Ayandele playing Nigerian Bata drums. Shabaka Hutchings plays the evocative clarinet melodies and improvisations while guitarist Curtis Shaw from Yorkshire improvises on Spanish guitar over the deep mood created on piano by the composer.

"Les Ibeji" is a stunning piece of work featuring an incessant rhythm from the Bata drummers with bold Wurlitzer piano over powerful musical statements by Karl Rasheed-Abel playing double bass and amazing trumpet sounds from Byron Wallen.

The final track, "Song for Jenny", starts out with a bluesy bassline supported by cellist Jenny Adejayan before dropping into a driving middle section featuring Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax then finishing off with more moody cello and some interesting interplay between bass player Karl Rasheed-Abel and the other musicians.

The drummers on the album deserve special mention. The already-mentioned Frank Tontoh brings more than a touch of class to three of the tracks while Courtney Pine's regular drummer, Robert Fordjour lays down some solid beats on "Song for Jenny" and "". 'New kid on the block' Pharoah Russell starts out a little shakily on "Pepple Street Blues", but gets warmed up on "Oga!" before hitting his stride on "Revenge of the Flying Monkeys" and playing at his best on "Mr. XYZ" where he is able to interact with the exciting congas and talking drum.

The most exciting aspect of this album for me is the fresh approach to blending jazz with the African rhythms that influenced the original development of jazz in the USA either via the African American musicians reaching back into their musical heritage or via the Cuban rhythms that also originally came from Africa. Nice one Funsho!

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© Mike Collins 2007