Recorded with legendary late Fela Kuti drummer, Tony Allen, shortly before his passing, this collaboration with storied New York singer-songwriter, Joan Wasser, and singer, songwriter, producer and guitarist, Dave Okumu is full of aching, slinky jazz, trip-hoppy vibes and a sensuality rarely caught on record these days. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone is doing the kind of out-there, imaginative, experimental stuff that Joan is doing other than, maybe, PJ Harvey, who has been a staple of the non-conformist music scene for just about as long as Joan.
The Solution Is Restless is an album that gets inside your head – somewhere in the darker and further reaches, worming its wayinto your every day conscience and need. In truth, I never had it off for months after purchasing a signed copy at Joan’s intimate gig in Leeds, at the brilliant Wardrobe venue. It’s one of those records that reminds you of half a dozen records you already love, whilst somehow sounding unlike anything else you can put your finger on. Try and explain that. If this is trip-hop, then I like it and those that devalue the genre are unjustified in their criticism. There’s a subtlty and intensity in this music that is comparable to, say, the likes of Radiohead or Pink Floyd, but in an entirely different way.
Now this album is multi-layered for so many reasons. None more so than the fact that Joan Wasser recorded the collaboration of a lifetime, but then disaster struck – the man that ex-Roxy Music eccentric and genius producer, Brian Eno, described as the world’s greatest drummer – Tony Allen – died at 79 from an aortic aneurysm. The record wasn’t out by then. A pioneer of Afrobeat, Allen’s contribution to The Solution Is Restless is little short of genius – spiritual and floating and wickedly inventive, as ever. Playing things by ear and purposefully arriving with no music written, just the hope of jamming something into being, this is an inspired collaboration record that only comes around once every blue moon.
“Are you afraid to hear a gospel so unholy?” enquires Wasser on the opening track, which is also the highlight of the record in my opinion, called The Barbarian. Take Me To Your Leader is just about as rousing as anything I’ve heard for years, lead single Geometry Of You a dense cut of sexed-up funk with black-hole spaces, and the enigmatic Masquerader a slice of irresistibly sparse, not-quite-in-touch-with-reality but still absolutely riveting piece of music.
It’s a defiantly good album, somehow appealing for fans of the likes of Marvin Gaye, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Talk Talk – if you can ever possibly draw such comparisons and conclusions, but also for so many more. Unconventional Allen rhythms are seductive, Joan’s soulful delivery and playing is immense (she sings and plays strings, piano, 12-string acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer, synths and bass), and Okuma’s foundation is weighty and slick. It’s a masterpiece.
The solution, of course, is the music. Though, there’s no doubt about it … the music is restless.