Amid Blur’s Union Jack-draped anointment — first at the Brit Awards, and then as the unofficial send-off to the 2012 Olympics — it’s worth reminding the world that Damon Albarn is one the U.K.’s arch internationalists. His work with the underrated Mali Music and DRC Music projects, the Afro-Albion supergroup the Good, the Bad and the Queen, and, of course, Gorillaz, has shown him to be a gracious and dextrous ringleader, drawing on a global palette of sound without it feeling like mere tourism.
He continues his run of form with his new band, Rocket Juice & the Moon, featuring Flea on bass and Tony Allen on drums. “Fusion” music generally conjures nightmarish visions of dreadlocked white trustafarians loping around in daddy’s field, but the blend of funk, highlife, dub and psychedelia is perfectly judged throughout. Dub techno master Mark Ernestus mixed the record, and doesn’t let it turn into 1970s Lagosor King Tubby pastiche, instead keeping the production clean and aerated. While lesser bands might choose to put a plodding breakbeat behind these brass-laden tracks (augmented by the ever-skilful Hypnotic Brass Ensemble), Allen keeps everything polyrhythmically on its toes — as you might expect, he and Flea make a potent and danceable rhythm section.
The vocal contributions seal the album though. Ghanaian rapper M.anifest is a revelation, unfolding extended sets of bars in a voice and flow reminiscent of Roots Manuva; Fatouma Diawara brings keening desert blues to “Lolo” and “Follow-Fashion”; Erykah Badu weaves her way expertly through the shimmying “Hey, Shooter.” And Albarn comes to the fore on “Poison,” singing his best post-Blur song with an unforgettable weather-beaten melody of heartbreaking simplicity. Released on the Honest Jon’s label that Albarn co-owns and which has sketched out “world music” in imaginative new shades, this is a seamless, sunlit meeting of cultures, a reminder that “fusion” need not be a dirty word.