This article originally appeared in the River Cities’ Reader.
The Chicago Afrobeat Project could not have a more plainly descriptive name, yet the band’s new CD transcends the ordinary. The group, which returns to the Quad Cities with a show on Friday at the Redstone Room, does its fair share of aimless jamming – all pleasant – but on several occasions it reaches highs that lift up the whole endeavor.
Listening to the first track of its new album, (A) Move to Silent Unrest, creates worry that the band’s musical imagination is as pedestrian as its name. While competent and enjoyable, “BSCG2″ is defined by incessant tap-tap woodblock percussion – an annoyance throughout the first half of the record. And nothing about the track gets beyond a standard-issue fusion of instrumental funk, jazz, and world music.
The woodblock is back on “Superstar Pt. 7,” but the tune is livelier, with a call-and-response between a lone sax and a chorus of horns, strutting sax and keyboard solos, and bursts of exclamatory punctuation from the guitar and horns.
The vocals on “Media Man” come as a bit of surprise, and they’re largely superfluous. They serve mostly to remind you how little you’d missed the human voice.
The fourth track, “Cloister,” shows the Chicago Afrobeat Project finding a gorgeous stride. Just past the two-minute mark, the horns provide a stuttering chorus – shy at first, then growing in confidence, with sparkling accents from the guitar -that carries the piece through its nine-plus minutes. When it rises in volume and intensity, it’s a repeated, direct melodic/rhythmic element that’s easy for the ears to grab hold of, and it’s a welcome counterpoint to the more ethereal jazz elements of the record.
Something similar is at work in “Chupacabra,” but the dominant horn line is presented almost at the outset, a reversal of the structure of “Cloister.” “Carcass” closes the record, pushing the pace to a gallop and featuring some squealing sax, a right turn from “Chupacabra” but almost its continuation.
What’s striking is that these horn motifs have an impact far greater than their (in)frequency should allow. They shape the entire album, acting as tentpoles. (A) Move to Silent Unrest is the type of album that works better as whole than broken up into its component parts. It requires time to develop, grow, and find its feet. And when it does, it’s pretty spectacular.
The Chicago Afrobeat Project will perform on Friday, December 7, at the Redstone Room in downtown Davenport. The show starts at 9 p.m., and the bill also features Ragaman (a member of which is the River Cities’ Reader’s Lars Rehnberg) and Rude Punch. Admission is $7.