Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Released this week: Rocket Juice & The Moon - S/T...

Rocket Juice & The Moon - S/T (Honest Jon's Records)
Damon Albarn, Tony Allen and Flea. With Erykah Badu, Fatoumata Diawara, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, M.anifest, and Cheick Tidiane Seck. High up in the skies, amongst the clouds, Rocket Juice & The Moon was born. Literally. It happened back in 2008, when Damon Albarn, Flea and Tony Allen convened on the same Lagos flight, to play and exchange musical ideas in that city as part of the Africa Express collective. Relishing a shared enthusiasm for one another's work, and bonding immediately, there and then the triumvirate laid down the blueprint for Rocket Juice.

Still, more than a year passed before conditions were set for three weeks together at Albarn's West London studio, recording and refining two-dozen startlingly out and deeply funky instrumental grooves. The next stage was to invite onboard some extremely talented friends, with further sessions in Dallas, New York, Chicago and Paris… Erykah Badu, no less, queen of contemporary soul. Three companions from Africa Express: Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, whose debut album has topped World Music charts since its release last Autumn; her multi-talented compatriot Cheick Tidiane Seck, whose prodigious keyboardism has lit up releases by artists ranging from Youssou N'Dour to Hank Jones; the young, Ghanaian rapper M.anifest, quizzically existential, switching seamlessly between Twi and English. And the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, long-time stalwarts in the Honest Jon's set-up. Finally, the tracks were dispatched for mixing to Berlin, to be meticulously honed, polished and envenomed by Mark Ernestus, one half of the legendary Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound partnerships.

The result is Rocket Juice & The Moon, a triumphant exploration and proliferation of kinetic Afro-funk rhythms: organic, exuberant, communal music-making, evidenced by the project's live debut on stage as part of the Honest Jon's Chop Up in late 2011, which hit London, Marseille, Dublin, and Cork to such great acclaim. Where the best of vintage Afrobeat sides sustained their concentrated energies over the course of sprawling, marathon jams, RJ & TM manages something altogether different: the group bottles the idiom into capsules of funk… and real songs. Beautifully buoyed by Erykah Badu's unmistakable vocals, Hey, Shooter brilliantly traverses metaphysical spaceways sans any semblance of noodling. Lolo and Follow-Fashion — featuring the open-hearted sensuality of Diawara's singing, M.anifest's quick, brawny science, and more brass blasts — play like its musical cousins or codas. Indeed, the album's shrewd sequencing creates the composite effect of tracks working both individually or within the context of an extended song-cycle.

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