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Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

Cotonou Club (Strut)

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., April 22, 2011

Phases & Stages

Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

Cotonou Club (Strut)

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo practiced what it preached: vodoun. Formed in the late 1960s from the cradle of black magic – Cotonou, Benin – the West African ensemble fused hypnotic rhythms of traditional spirit possession ceremonies with the needlepoint efficacy of James Brown soul, Nigerian high life, and trans-Atlantic grooves. Despite recording more than 50 albums and twice as many singles, geographic limitations and financial difficulties under the country's Marxist dictatorship stunted Orchestre's rightful legacy. That's changed over the last decade through a remarkable excavation process. The 2003 collection Reminiscin' in Tempo/African Dancefloor Classics unearthed the regional phenomenon, but Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-80 the following year set the gold standard. Following suit was lo-fi spectacular Volume One: "The Vodoun Effect" 1972-1975 Funk & Sato From Benin's Obscure Labels and its essential bookend, the retrospective Volume 2: "Echos Hypnotiques" From the Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979, each release displaying a slightly different side of the revolutionary funk outfit. The renewed interest sparked a reunion of Orchestre's remaining original members – founding guitarist/saxophonist Mélomé Clément, singer Vincent Ahéhéhinnou, saxophonist Pierre Loko, bassist Gustave Bentho, and guitarist Maximus-Unitas Adjanohun – and prompted the band's first album in 20 years, recorded with French radio producer Sons d'Ailleurs. While Afrobeat dignitary Fela Kuti reigned at the Shrine in nearby Lagos, Orchestre held court at the Zenith, and Cotonou Club is first and foremost a tribute to that place and time – a period partially documented on 2009 Analog Africa compilation Legends of Benin. The 11-piece Orchestre reprises some of its best material, most notably the rebel soul of "Von Vo Nono" and standout "Gbeti Madjro," the latter featuring Angélique Kidjo, and both for the better. Amended with the prefix Tout Puissant ("All Mighty"), the self-proclaimed polyrhythmic outfit still lives up to the title, floating like vintage Muhammad Ali and stinging like a swarm of Wu-Tang killer bees in the Pan-Latin flair of "Ne Te Faches Pas," exaltation "Oce," and electric salsa "Koumi Dede." The spidery guitars in "Ma Vie" prove as intoxicating as the language itself, a rich mixture of the regional dialects Fon and Yoruba. Franz Ferdinand's Nick McCarthy and Paul Thomson guest on bonus cut "Lion Is Burning," yet like the rest of Cotonou Club, it's not a contemporary ploy but rather another voice in a séance for the ages.

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