Rocket Juice & The Moon
High up in the skies, amongst the clouds Rocket Juice & The Moon was born. It happened back in 2008, when Damon Albarn, Flea and Tony Allen convened on the same Lagos flight, to play and exchange musical ideas in that city as part of the Africa Express collective. Relishing a shared enthusiasm for one another's work, and bonding immediately, there and then, the triumvirate laid down the blueprint for Rocket Juice. Still, more than a year passed before conditions were set for three weeks together at Albarn's West London studio, recording and refining two-dozen startlingly out and deeply funky instrumental grooves. The next stage was to invite onboard some extremely talented friends, with further sessions in Dallas, New York, Chicago and Paris -- Erykah Badu, no less, queen of contemporary soul. Three companions from Africa Express: Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, whose debut album has topped World Music charts since its release; her multi-talented compatriot Cheick Tidiane Seck, whose prodigious keyboardism has lit up releases by artists ranging from Youssou N'Dour to Hank Jones; the young Ghanaian rapper M.anifest; and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, long-time stalwarts in the Honest Jon's set-up. Finally, the tracks were dispatched for mixing to Berlin, to be meticulously honed, polished and envenomed by Mark Ernestus, one-half of the legendary Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound partnerships. The result is Rocket Juice & The Moon -- a triumphant exploration and proliferation of kinetic Afro-funk rhythms: organic, exuberant, communal music-making. From the inaugural bars, the liquid pulse of Fela Kuti's classic recordings drives the action through a suite of 18 shape-shifting compositions. Allen's intricate cross-patterns jostle and lock with Flea's nimble, rumbling bass riffs. Joined by Seck on "There" and "Extinguished" -- Albarn's keyboards spray synth fusillades up top, over, and under -- splicing into the mess of wires running between the freaked Afro-disco of William Onyeabor and the space-jazz-Moog of Sun Ra. The HBE brings extra intensity and drama to "Leave-Taking" -- likewise Flea's trumpet to "Rotary Connection" -- teasing out the haunting melody coiled in the mix. Beautifully buoyed by Erykah Badu's unmistakable vocals, "Hey, Shooter" brilliantly traverses metaphysical spaceways sans any semblance of noodling. "Lolo" and "Follow-Fashion" -- featuring the open-hearted sensuality of Diawara's singing, M.anifest's brawny science, and more brass blasts -- play like its musical cousins or codas. Indeed, the album's shrewd sequencing creates the composite effect of tracks working both individually or within the context of an extended song-cycle. "Poison" is bittersweet and ruminative, and down-tempo and dubby, "Check Out" and "Worries" amplify the range of styles and moods. And by the time of "Fatherless" -- a chugging Afro-blues that evokes John Lee Hooker lost in Lagos, one gets the sneaking suspicion there's very little outside the reach of this collective's inventive musical grasp.