By BEN RATLIFF
Published: October 3, 2010
KING SUNNY ADé
“Bábá mo Túndé”
The track lengths on a King Sunny Adé album always signify. In 1967, the beginning of his record-making years, leading his Green Spot band in the sweet polyrhythmic Nigerian pop style called juju, they were short: mostly three-minute lilts. By the early 1970s they’d stretched out, often up to an LP side, more reflective of the band’s live performances. When his music was marketed to North America for three records in the early 1980s, the track lengths shrank again, in hopes of radio play. By his previous album for the Western market, in 2000, some of the keyboard textures had become Europop glossy, but the song lengths were creeping back up, to nearly 10 minutes.
Good news: the longest track on the new double-disc album “Bábá mo Túndé” runs past 31 minutes. The new, 16-piece version of his African Beats band recorded it recently in a Pennsylvania studio, with six chorus singers behind Mr. Adé’s soft lead vocals, two players of the talking drum and the marvelous trap-set drummer Taiwo Sogo Ogunjimi-Oba. (The pedal-steel guitar, long an exotic mark in his band, is gone for now.)
And the music, Yoruba praise-songs and parables with sprays of English, develops at its own schedule. The longer songs shuttle through segments, cued at will by Mr. Adé, of vamping, solos, verses and chants. The epic title track changes key exactly twice, and both times in the middle of short, lovely guitar solos by Mr. Adé, after the 17- and 24-minute marks. Both it and “Baba Feran Mi” end almost abruptly after lengthy talking-drum solos — expressions of vitality that our logic might put in the middle of a piece. These are strange and sometimes thrilling ways of bringing modulation and closure.
The hand-drumming through the record is light and precise and fixed, with the trap-set drums ebbing and flowing against it, constantly revising its patterns and stress beats. At 64 Mr. Adé is still a beguiling guitarist, making gestural, staccato phrases on top of the music, letting high notes sweep up or down and trail off, spiking the rhythm over the cyclical patterns of the band’s other guitarist, Segun Kalajaiye.
The record sags on the second disc. After the high of the title song, the Philadelphia-based remixer King Britt put his hand to a remix of the track, using what sounds like a digital rhythm sequencer, and the 15-minute result chugs along rigidly compared with what Mr. Adé’s band can generate in real time: music that feels like repetition but never actually does the same thing twice. BEN RATLIFF
KING SUNNY ADE “BABA MO TUNDE” (Sel: 2147 / UPC: 899653002147 / Available Now!)