TP Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

The Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-80
(Soundway)

For the better part of the '70s, TP Orchestre Poly-Rythmo ("TP" for tout puissant, or "all powerful") served as the house band for the tiny African nation of Benin, acting both as self-contained funk band and session musicians for homeless vocalists. The group's stateside profile is slight -- an oversight which, while somewhat understandable, is still lamentable. The Kings of Benin Urban Groove snatches up some of the Orchestre's more, um, powerful moments. The most remarkable thing about the Orchestre is its strong formal similarity to American funk. The loose, limber "Aihe Ni Kpe We" sounds like Curtis Mayfield's work in the early '70s, a nervous guitar lead having quick spasms over a bloodshot, acid-wasted bass line. The chicken-scratch guitar and hyperkinetic organ lead on "Lou Tche Kpo So O" recall the sweaty jubilation of New Orleans funk, while the cool-jerk brass fanfare that hollers through "Gbeto Vivi" could have been clipped from a master reel in the Motown basement. Even more: TP Orchestre Poly-Rythmo only uses these references as starting points, appropriating them and reconfiguring them to make knotty, complex funk that's gritty and nimble and throbbing with life. All-powerful, indeed.

 
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