Here’s an idea: Listen to Red Hot + Fela blind — don’t look at the track list. Once you’ve done that, go back and compare what your eyes see and what your ears expect. They won’t necessarily be the same things. For example, while it’s not totally surprising when Kronos Quartet is rhythmically acute, you might not expect the string ensemble to push the beat of Fela Kuti’s bluesy “Sorrow Tears + Blood” so forcefully as they do backing TV on the Radio singers Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, with help from reeds player Stuart Bogie.
That artist listing is typical: Red Hot + Fela pays tribute to a man who typically hit the stage with a dozen pieces, so there’s a lot of teaming up here. There’s also the fact that Fela’s long grooves are perfect sites for making new connections as well as revisiting old pleasures. Nneka, Sinkane, Amayo and Superhuman Happiness transform “No Buredi” into driving synth-pop, losing nothing in the translation. And My Morning Jacket absolutely nails the groove on “Trouble Sleep,” with help from tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, achieving quiet, easy flight with quietly piercing solos. Part revue, part played-out mastermixing, this honors its musical source nicely, and proves how fecund Fela continues to be.