The Guilhermina Suggia showroom at Casa da Música in Porto has received 3 very special guests on the 2nd of July: the Americans Jeff Mills (with drum machine and synthesizer) and Tony Allen (on drums), with the company of the French Jean-Phi Dary on the keyboard. Within the scope of the Casa da Música jazz cycle, they brought to Porto a mix of African American rhythms, a fusion of cultures and historical periods, an unparalleled musical demonstration.
Before approaching music itself, it is crucial to mention the technical and graphic aspects of the show, which did not let the music go bad, quite the contrary. Undoubtedly one of the three best acoustic rooms in Portugal, the quality, purity and perfection of the sound, even when Mills charged on the bass, he left everyone present marvelled. To add to this, the light show, dominated by blue, red and purple (I venture to say to symbolize the different records of the 3 musicians – blue for techno, red for jazz, purple for blues), and a screen as a background to recreate interplanetary space have perfectly illustrated the concept of Tomorrow Comes The Harvest, the album that Mills and Allen have been presenting since 2018: a set of electro-symphonies and sound odysseys inspired by futurism, space travel, without forgetting the jazz, the swing, the foxtrot, the blues, in short, the African American movements that became international in the last century.
The whole show consisted of a steady oscillation of rhythms, in which the 3 musicians constantly sought to seek each other’s rhythm, creating at the same time a sense of micro-delay in the beat and a sense of perfect harmony. It is, in fact, priceless, the way Mills and Dary communicated with Allen throughout the performance, even using the afrobeat king, as usual, black sunglasses.
It is an inglorious and even unjust task for artists to characterize this spectacle, such as the amount of musical influences that has been noted throughout the show, in the space of an hour and a half. From the deep and oceanic chords, reminding blues’ classics, from Dary, passing through Allen’s lightweight and subtle drums, giving a vibe of jazz, funk and of the American big bands, to the vibrant claps from Mills’ Detroit techno, all this passing thorough for several tempos, remembering sometimes downtempo, sometimes tech house, or even industrial techno. It was as if the melody came from the early twentieth century, from African and Africa American rhythms, while the beat was literally in the hands of the magician Mills, owner of an unbelievable versatility and improvisational talent, as he had proved with some solos in which he played with the synthesizer, with constant twists in the pace and in the elements of the beat, while the public was astonished. Mills’ role was to give the fundamental modern touch to the uniqueness of the music heard, contributing with deep ambient techno chords as well as short, interstellar chords, making the background set make all the sense. But the show was not just Jeff‘s. There was room and time for everyone to shine, as well as interesting to highlight Jean-Phi Dary’s sense of tempos, always getting in the right rhythm and shining with some extremely difficult keyboard solos, since at times he played his two keyboards simultaneously. In fact, it is not possible to say that one of the three musicians were more important and influential than the others for the sound structure. Even Allen, in his relaxed record, had his space for one or two solo moments, which laid bare all the dimensions of his still-modern afrobeat. Although most of the time was light (otherwise we wouldn’t be in a concert of the jazz cycle), there was time for Mills to show some of his origins in electronic music, investing more in the final part of the show in a darker and more intense beat, in a bass with more power, in erratic and dry sounds, counteracting the long notes of Dary’s keyboard, in a kind of hypnotic and fading riff, while the French invited the audience to rise from their chairs and begin dance this kind of techno blues. Regarding the album released last year, only the vocal element was missing, in the album by Carl Hancock Rux.
Tony Allen and Jeff Mills shared a stage for the first time in December 2016 at the New Morning in Paris. Since then, they have perfected their tune with concerts that have become the culmination not only of rhythms, but of the rhythm. Having the opportunity to witness in loco two of the world’s most innovative beat creators, virtuously supported by Jean-Philippe Dary‘s Moogs and synthesizers, fusing the past and the future into a magical present in which digital and analogue, jazz and electro, Africa and America, become one, was an honour and a privilege for me – an experience that no review would be able to translate into its fullness.