Antibalas Keeps the Groove Going at 9:30
Antibalas, the Brooklyn-based Afro-jazz-funk ensemble, has everything that Nigerian cultural phenomenon Fela Kuti's band once had -- except for a Fela figure of its own. The 12-piece group, which kept a medium-size 9:30 club crowd moving for two hours Wednesday night, continues the late Kuti's melange of African, Latin and African American music, and offers a stateside equivalent of the Nigerian's defiant politics. But while a few of the musicians sometimes took center stage, no one held that position permanently. Too often, there was an empty place at the middle of the band's grooves.
Antibalas (Spanish for "bulletproof'') experiments with cooler vibes on its new album, "Security," which was produced by Tortoise's John McEntire, and which provided much of Wednesday's set list. As on the CD, the group segued from the strutting, antiwar "War Hero" into the near-ambient "I.C.E." (The title stands for "Ice Covers England," a reference to a global-climate scenario in which the Gulf Stream ceases to warm northern Europe.) With its chiming guitars and melancholy trombone, the slo-mo instrumental was prettier than most of the group's music, but it cast a chill over the performance.
If such new material is problematic on stage, Antibalas regained its step with several other "Security" selections. "Beaten Metal" emphasized the timbres its title describes, while "Filibuster X" and "Sanctuary" mixed percolating rhythms, horn fanfares and political commentary bolstered by joyous call-and-response vocals.
Antibalas is as much a party band as an ideological unit, so it was appropriate that the final encore, "Indictment," interjected a bit of "Happy Birthday" -- for one band member's girlfriend -- into a song that fantasizes about dragging members of the Bush administration into court.
-- Mark Jenkins