Tony Allen, Fela Kuti‘s drumming counterpart in the creation of Afrobeat, has been quite active in the 2000s, recording with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Zap Mama, and in super groups the Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon. That said, the last releases under his own name were 2006’sSecret Agent and 2007’s collaboration with Jimi Tenor on the fourth volume of Strut’s Inspiration Information series. Film of Life was recorded in France with the Jazz bastards playing and producing, and a slew of guests contributing to its musical mix. It can be heard both as a portrait of Allen‘s career as Afrobeat’s bannerman rhythmnatist or — perhaps more accurately — the soundtrack to his own musical innovation and evolution through it. Either way it’s a stone killer. The opener “Moving On” is funky Afrobeat, complete with slippery, percussive guitar vamps, fat brassy horns, a trance-like bassline, and Allen‘s signature, hi-hat/tom-tom combination, sparked by his skittering circular snare. His vocal — backed by Audrey Gbaguidi in choral response style — tells his story through his album titles. This would be a gimmick from a lesser musician, but for Allen it’s a volley of truth, pure and simple. Damon Albarn (his bandmate in the aforementioned units) is lead vocalist on the set’s first single, the break-heavy “Go Back.” The tune stretches the musical and textural boundaries of modern pop and retro-Philly soul as they encounter African rhythms. Ludovic Bruni‘s tightly wound bassline interacts with Allen‘s cracking kit in lockstep grooves. The meld of Afro-funk and Far Eastern pop use B-movie tropes. Wah-wah guitars, fuzzed-out basslines, and a cheesy synth melody submit to Allen‘s crisp drumming in the role of storyteller, altering their shape and nuance. “Koko Dance” moves in another direction. Blaxploitation’s extreme funkiness is filtered through spaghetti western guitars and the organ-driven vamps of Afrobeat. Taken together, these tunes subvert the trappings of their predecessors and make ’70s Hollywood a racist caricature of itself. American-born Nigerian singerKuku makes one of two exceptional vocal appearances here (the second is on the brilliant closer “Tony Wood”). As the horns punctuate the choruses, the use of Auto-Tune and dubwise reverb twists everything into perverse, snaky directions. “Ire Omo,” with fierce vocals by female vocal ensemble Adunni & Nefertiti, refracts Afrobeat through the source of its original inspiration: James Brown. Its cutting horn lines, wonky clavinet, and Allen‘s kinetic kitwork make this jammer irresistible. The ticking hi-hat on “African Mind” introduces the set’s most ferocious track. The spirited dialogues between horns, guitars, fractious bass, vibraphone, hard snap breaks, and circular rhythms goes completely over the top. Fans may not have realize it initially, but Film of Life provides us with what we’ve missed sorely: Allen as Allen. Here, the master drummer has used his entire musical history to create a sound that is vital, urgent, powerful, and sexy as hell.