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Agent K: Feed the Cat

Agent K

Toward the end of the ’90s, when drum ‘n’ bass was seemingly driving itself into an aesthetic brick wall with its obsession with cardiac-arrest-inducing velocity, overt rhythmic complexities and nihilistic lyrics of premillennium tension, the genre known as broken beat emerged as a breath of fresh air. Its choppy, rhythmic pulse was no less brainy, but it was paired and slowed down to a more humane groove, which enabled more lyricism and space to effectively encompass a wider array of genres, from Afro-beat to samba. Like hard bop was to bebop in the late ’50s, broken beat brought back the funk, demonstrating a more explicit connection to its reggae, blues and gospel roots. British multi-instrumentalist Agent K’s (aka Kaidi Tatham) full-length debut, Feed the Cat (Giant Step), masterly shows the direct lineage of ’70s jazz-funk to electronica’s new vanguard.

After years of playing in West London’s influential Co-Op scene (a workshop for fellow broken-beat innovators Bugz in the Attic, Afronaught and I.G. Culture, among others), Agent K has been hailed as “London’s answer to Herbie Hancock”-which is a gross overstatement. He doesn’t demonstrate Hancock’s compositional or instrumental virtuosity to live up to such a claim. He is, however, a wonderful conceptualist. In fact, you kind of wish that Agent K was on board when Hancock recorded his uneven electronica excursion Future 2 Future. He certainly shows a fondness for Hancock’s sonic innovations made during his Warner Bros. and early 1970s Columbia recordings. The infectious Afro-futurism explored on “Orbit,” “Thy Lord” and “Armz R Deh,” with their twitchy clavinet riffs, arching synth washes, haunting Afro-Latin percussion and hypnotic melodies, evoke Mwandishi, but his evocative piano solo on “Armz R Deh” recalls McCoy Tyner more than Hancock. Meanwhile, the insanely catchy title track, with its nonsensical, syncopated chorus, owes a huge debt to ’70s Roy Ayers.

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