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Live (Afrofunk Big Band)
Label: Grigri Discs
Time: 10 Tracks / 60 minutes
As a brash collective that has earned a reputation for its live shows, a live Chopteeth CD may or may not be the best way to catch them. It captures them at their truest in a stage performance, but playing their music outside the sweaty club atmosphere and without the volume and bass coming through your feet – unless your home system is big enough to upset your neighbours – this may feel like a compromise.
But the energy certainly finds its way through to disc. Opener “J.J.D.” struts with a horn-swinging swagger. The brass soloists belt out notes so low that you have to go potholing to hear them, and soon afterwards they are parping the top end off their instruments. The band’s vigour makes up for what it lacks in finesse.
Look at the tracklist and you will see pieces written by Fela and Femi Kuti at each end, so it looks like the band is dedicated to Nigerian Afro-beat, especially given the inclusion of "Freedom Dance” by Peter King, a player who rivalled Fela Kuti in his day, but is now so obscure that it took Chopteeth a month to track him down for copyright clearance. This collection, scooped up from several live shows, reaches right across western and central parts of the continent, so we also get glimpses of highlife and slabs of brassy funk.
Yet this is not all that the band from Washington, D.C. can do. “Jiin Ma Jiin Ma” (Senegal) is one of the album’s strongest cuts, and a ballad that might sound more at home in Latin America than Africa. The aptly-named “Festival” (Guinea) dances to a similar beat, a hint that the disc revels in percussive force.
From its sea-bed trawling brass, funky guitar and psychedelic organ, you’d never guess that “Didgeridoo” was a Duke Ellington piece. It is one that Ellington composed in the 1960s after visiting the continent as musical ambassador for the United States (maybe he actually went to Australia?). Brian Simms joins the band to contribute some superb organ to the piece and trombonist Craig Considine must have gone red on stage doing circular breathing to get the sound of a didgeridoo.
Welding relentless African rhythms, powerful horns and jazz sensibilities (although the soloing is not always their biggest strength) this is a party in a box.