From its base in exotic Brooklyn, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra furthers the style of Nigerian jazz-funk firebrand Fela Kuti, who died in 1997. Of course, Fela also has a legitimate heir, his son Femi. But he's diverted his father's style into a techno-pop course, while Antibalas (which means "bulletproof") retains Fela's sprawling big-band style. Still, this 16-piece outfit downplays one aspect of Fela's music: its message.
The name of Antibalas's second album, "Talkatif," turns out to be less than apt; of the disc's seven pieces, only two feature vocals. Such titles as "Hypocrite" and "War Is a Crime" identify tracks whose entire remarks come from blaring horns, bleating organ and chattering congas. Antibalas's playing is crisp and tight, but the absence of the human voice is a problem: Most of these tracks seem designed to propel something that isn't there. What's lacking becomes clear during "Nyash" and especially the almost-10-minute title track. Midway through the latter, percussionist Duke Amayo begins to sing and the music comes alive. Antibalas needn't be garrulous, but a few well-chosen words give the band's driving grooves a sense of direction.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Antibalas, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)