Lekan Bablola Songs of Icon

Songs of Icon is divided into two parts: one disc of original compositions, a second disc of remixes. Nigerian composer Bablola’s originals sound like Oliver Nelson with more of a backbeat to them, which is to say these are arrangements for a large jazz band with funk drumming throughout and of course, a good deal of West African and Afro-Cuban percussion. Afrobeat isn’t the best descriptor, these are not grooves with riffs, they are full-fledged arrangements in which no one part stands out. "Kabioye” is a definite dance floor stomper, recalling the latter day big band version of Defunkt. This song was built for sampling, with several horn shots off the top featured in the remixes on disc two. "Asokere” features the unusual addition of clarinets; they figure throughout the remainder of the disc. "Ide Osun” has Cuban drum pattern that features lovely guitar comping, and gorgeous choral arrangements. On the whole, these are ambitious arrangements played competently without a standout soloist, or sometimes all that much variation in the backbeat. With the care taken in the arrangements, the remixes come off as disappointing, even though the point is to focus the appeal for the dance floor. Even the most broken beat-oriented workouts come across as, well, grooves with riffs. These beats pave over the harmonies and little touches that could have added so much more personality. Surprisingly, French Afro-house-by-the-numbers producer Bob Sinclar comes off well, because he throttles up the beats where others are too busy breaking them into less than the sum of their parts. (Mr. Bongo)