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Psyco on da Bus

Psyco on da Bus is an inspired merger of Afrobeat roots and 21st-century technology concocted by Tony Allen, the drummer and arranger for late Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, and Doctor L, an Irish expat known for blunted, dubby downtempo. During the course of their 2000 tour with Afrobeat 2000 -- a nod to Fela's legendary groups Africa 70 and Egypt 80 -- Allen and Doctor L laid down foundation tracks on their bus and in various homes and hotel rooms. After the tour, they fleshed out the tunes with friends in several studios, overdubbing vocals, piano, and a wealth of head-spinning effects.

On "Afropusherman," Allen's stoned monotone rolls over taut Afrobeat rhythms and rippling bass lines, while Jeff Kellner's guitar and Jean Phi Dary's Rhodes keyboard flare up in bursts of color. There's more than a little of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew in the dark intensity the players conjure, but on "Push Your Mind" (a remix of "Afropusherman") the black hole eases into a loosely strewn, psychedelic constellation, with acoustic guitar blossoming around the edges of the track. Although both Afrobeat and electronica are often better known for thick grooves than striking melodies, Psyco on da Bus contains more than its share of bona fide songs. Mixed in with off-the-cuff tracks such as "K.I.S. Compatible" is "Pictures Talk," in which a hiccuping rhythm provides the underpinning for Dary's and Cesar Anot's mournful, vaguely Middle Eastern vocals.

At the album's end, the band offers "Time to Take a Rest Suite," which could serve as a metaphor for touring exhaustion, if not such a tightly wound display of group musicianship. Even as strings, horns, piano, and vocals fly off in multiple directions, the musicians maintain the groove's immediacy, never losing their grip on the pavement. That attention to the unspooling centerline is the secret to Psyco on da Bus, a record that is above all a document of intimacy, a portrait of artists for whom rhythm is not just played but lived.

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Philip Sherburne

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