The Source (Blue Note)

Tony Allen

Released September 8, 2017

Allmusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2017

The Guardian Highest Rated Jazz Albums of All Time




Drum legend Tony Allen has seen a childhood dream come true. He even says that when he made The Source (his debut album for Blue Note Records), it was the best recording in his whole life. Coming from Allen, that’s not a casual statement: he is 76 years old and his career goes back 50 years, not to mention recordings by the hundred. The saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz, who has been playing alongside him for nearly a decade, observes: “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.”

The Source is the Nigerian-born Paris-based drummer’s first full-length album for Blue Note, following the tantalizing 4-track EP release A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Blue Note is one of the most prestigious names in jazz and a label that has opened its sphere of creativity considerably wider since its renaissance in the 1980s. The Source manages to represent the label’s classic era at the same time as it symbolizes Blue Note’s innovative present. The jazz here navigates its way back to the source in Africa, creating a sound that is totally captivating.

The best albums always tell a story. This one takes us back to the source of Allen’s art as a musician, in other words, to Nigeria in the latter half of the 20th century. Tony Oladipo Allen, who was born in Lagos in 1940, never played a traditional instrument: right from the beginning, his interest was for a distant relative of the ancestral percussion family, namely, the drum kit. He taught himself, serving his apprenticeship while working as a technician for Nigerian national radio, all the time listening to records by American masters such as Art Blakey, Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, the eminent drummers of the bebop and hard bop eras.

His life changed totally in 1964 when he made the acquaintance of Fela Kuti, whom he would accompany for the next 15 years, first with Fela’s Koola Lobitos, an emblematic highlife band that was a model for all modern African music groups, and then when Fela led Africa 70, for which he developed a new music language: Afrobeat, which combined Yoruba rhythms and funk instruments with themes of revolution. Alongside Fela, Tony recorded some 20 albums and put his rhythm-signature to each of them. From then on, Afrobeat would propel a career that saw him pursue his own projects while collaborating with everyone from Oumou Sangare to Damon Albarn (in The Good, The Bad & The Queen).

In early 2017, Tony began preparing The Source, the next step in the musical and spiritual voyage that he has undertaken from Africa to America and beyond. To share writing tasks and take care of the arrangements, he called on Jankielewicz, with whom he has worked since 2009 and the album Secret Agent. They began by getting together to listen to and exchange their favorite records: Lester Bowie, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Gil Evans… albums that served as a compass to guide them on their way, as if they were navigators of old scrutinizing a constellation.

“Tony belongs to those musician-architects who know how to build on a drum pattern with rare precision,” says Jankielewicz. “He can hear every instrument before it makes a sound.” This particular architect’s worksite was the Midilive studio (Vogue’s former recording facility), whose walls in the suburbs of Paris contain equipment that is purely analog. It’s a rare studio, and it’s worth underlining that the recording went onto tape and, from the sound-take to the mixing and cutting, not a single digital byte was consumed in the process. That goes some way towards explaining the exceptional texture of the sound you hear in the album.

Surrounding Tony are some of the best musicians on a Paris scene that is difficult to call “jazz” due to its highly changeable nature: Jankielewicz alongside saxophonists Rémi Sciuto and Jean-Jacques Elangue, trumpeter Nicolas Giraud, trombonist Daniel Zimmermann, bassist Mathias Allamane, pianist Jean-Philippe Dary, and keyboardist Vincent Taurelle, who produced the album with Bertrand Fresel… a French cast to begin with, but with the addition of guitarist Indy Dibongue from Cameroon who, like Tony, contributes an indispensable African pigment to this palette. 11 excellent players in total would finally deliver The Source, along with one notable guest: Damon Albarn, who adds an ethereal piano part to “Cool Cats.”

The album sparkles in the variety of its timbres and the diversity of its colors. Each of the 11 instrumental tracks—all new originals co-written by Allen and Jankielewicz—bring forward a particular instrument: Giraud’s trumpet on “Bad Roads”; the bass of Allamane on “Crusin’”; Dary’s piano inside “On Fire,” and Sciuto’s bari sax on “Woro Dance.” With “Cool Cats,” it’s the turn of Elangue and his tenor, while Zimmerman’s trombone is featured on “Wolf Eats Wolf.” And throughout, Tony’s indelible signature, a unique way of hitting skins or a cymbal, its main characteristics a caressing, almost ethereal energy, and a formidable efficiency. The music on The Source creates its own milieu. It shines like the African sun on “Push & Pull,” becomes contemplative with “Tony’s Blues,” then hypnotic in “Life Is Beautiful,” then dresses in the urban colors of dusk on “Ewajo.” Where is the jazz, where is the Afrobeat, in this insistent swirl of the music? Nobody knows. But nor should we ask the ocean’s calm or restless waters to differentiate between currents from the river Niger and those from the Mississippi.

Track Listing:

1. Moody Boy (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 06:33

2. Bad Roads (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 05:48

3. Cruising (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 06:01

4. On Fire (Tony Allen / Jean Phillippe Dury) 06:17

5. Woro Dance (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 06:39

6. Tony’s Blues (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 05:00

7. Wolf Eats Wolf (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 05:37

8. Cool Cats (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 04:22

9. Push and Pull (Tony Allen / Indy Dibongue / Yann Jankielewicz) 05:56

10. Ewajo (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 05:34

11. Life Is Beautiful (Tony Allen / Yann Jankielewicz) 06:26


Tony Allen: drums

Mathias Allamane: bass

Indy Dibongue: Guitar

Jean-Philippe Dary: piano and organ

Yann Jankielewicz: soprano sax

Nicolas Giraud: trumpet and flugelhorn

Jean-Jacques Elangue: tenor sax

Remi Sciuto: baritone sax, alto sax and flute

Daniel Zimmermann: trombone and tuba

Damon Albarn: piano (8)

Vincent Taurelle: clavinet (11)

Recorded live to analog tape in 2017, at Midilive Studio, Villetaneuse, France

Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Bertrand Fresel and Vincent Taurelle

Assistant Recording Engineer: Etienne Clauzel

Assistant Mixing Engineer: Josh Green

Mastered by Antoine “Chab” Chabert

Cover Design: Rebecca Meek

Photography by Bernard Benant

Executive-Producer: Eric Trosset


Best known as the drummer for Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, Tony Allen is an icon in his own right, an innovator, and a vital architect of Kuti’s percussively funky, jazz- and R&B-soaked sound. On his full-length Blue Note debut, 2017’s The Source, Allen expands upon those contributions with new compositions inspired by the jazz that shaped his early years. 77 years old at the time of this recording, Allen grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where he soaked up Juju and other traditional West African music styles. Initially, however, it was American jazz that caught his imagination, specifically bop artists like Max Roach and Art Blakey — the latter of whom he paid homage to on his 2017 EP, Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. On The Source, he balances both his jazz and Afrobeat sides, delivering buoyant songs that are equal parts funky jams, harmonic engagements, and modal workouts. Helping him achieve this synergistic combination is Paris-based saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz, who previously appeared on Allen’s 2009 effort, Secret Agent. Here, Allen and Jankielewicz have crafted songs that showcase the drummer’s muscular, kinetic style and ability to lead a robust ensemble. Making up that ensemble are an adventurous cadre of Jankielewicz’s fellow Parisians including bassist Mathias Allamane, guitarist Indy Dibongue, pianist Jean Phi Dary, trumpeter Nicolas Giraud, trombonist and tuba player Daniel Zimmermann, saxophonists Jean Jacques Elangue and Remi Sciuto, and organist Vincent Taurelle. Also making an appearance is Allen’s the Good, the Bad & the Queen bandmate Damon Albarn, who slips in for some piano hijinks. The opening “Moody Boy” starts dramatically with a bluesy rubato tuba statement from Zimmermann, played with a soulful urgency that improbably brings to mind John Coltrane, and then leaps headlong into a crisp, funky groove marked by Vincent Taurelle’s juicy organ. Also engaging are cuts like the celebratory “Push and Pull,” which impossibly marries Preservation Hall-style group improvisation with a bouncy highlife-jazz energy. Yet other cuts, like “Tony’s Blues” and “Ewajo,” sound like something Charles Mingus might have written for Fela Kuti. One of the most satisfying aspects of The Source is just how nuanced and harmonically varied these arrangements are. There’s a real chamber jazz aspect to many of the songs as the band swells and vibrates against Allen’s intense drum tumult until the entire ensemble erupts into a cacophony of soulful, winding skronk. If Allen felt the impulse to celebrate his idol Art Blakey on his previous EP, with The Source, he offers an open-ended coda to that influence; an earthy, majestic, endlessly inventive album that caps both his own storied career and points the way toward the future.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)