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Antibalas ()

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Antibalas is the first record in four years by the Brooklyn Afro-beat ensemble of the same name, and is the band's debut on the Daptone label. Label co-owner (and co-founder) Gabriel Roth is a former member of the 11-piece band, and produced not only this date, but their first three albums. In the years between the release of Security in 2008 and this effort, various bandmembers took part in the stage production of FELA! , and Antibalas' urgent sound has undergone a slight sonic transformation. Afro-beat and its insistence on rhythm at every level-- bass, drums, percussion, horns, vocals, guitars, keyboards, etc. -- is still its engine. But the nuances are different: Victor Axelrod's organ and electric piano, and Marcos Garcia's guitar sound brighter; they offer melodic, brittle, animated funk riffs in the foreground and as accompaniment. Backbeats have been added to their trance-like polyrhythms; they're tighter and they crack instead of simply pushing the energy forward in waves. The opening guitar vamp on "Dirty Money," the set's first cut and single, offers ample evidence. The chugging guitar is so bright it might have come off a James Brown record. Axelrod's organ enters with a series of melodic statements, all pulsing counter to the guitars. The percussion bumps and horns undercut then punch through the mix in a cacophonous strut. It isn't until they fall away and Abraham Amayo begins singing call and response with a trio of female backing vocalists that Afro-beat takes actual precedence. "Ari Degbe" features a triple-timed polyrhythmic stew of cowbells, shaker, organ chords, and a drum kit, picking up a guitar and a rubbery bassline which rumble through. The horns find a different groove and threaten to take over the jam, but as the rhythms settle down, they balance out. A redux version of "Sáré Kon Kon" erases the seams between funk, jazz, and Afro-beat. It's a careening sprint as it zigzags between taut urgency and orgiastic celebration with two concurrent horn vamps and a tight, bubbling bassline. The interplay between the instruments provides a tightrope for Amayo and the backing vocalists, who not only walk it, they dance over it, creating an entirely different groove in the process. Antibalas is a welcome return; its slight shift in direction and production nuances reveal just how sophisticated this ensemble is, expanding the Afro-beat sound in the 21st century without sacrificing its heart. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi Hide synopsis

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