Fantasy football is big business nowadays, but what about fantasy bands? Take a renowned and formidable vocalist (Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Police Woman), the producer and keyboard player behind The Invisible, who has worked with Amy Winehouse and Matthew Herbert among many others (Dave Okumu). Add one of the world’s best drummers (the sadly departed Tony Allen) and you have a trio destined for a high points score, even from just the one away fixture in Paris.
For it was in the French capital that these three protagonists met up for a jam. Introduced by Damon Albarn at an Africa Express event, Wasser and Allen had struck up a fiercely creative musical relationship. Wasser brought in Okumu, and the trio set up improvising sessions that culminated in a whole night in the Parisian studio. But then… a pandemic. Allen, tragically, passed away five months after the meeting, but during lockdown Wasser took the raw material, creating loops and song structures, bending and moulding them into a carefully structured set of 10 tracks, drawing on deeply personal experiences and a few lockdown encounters.
There is little doubt Allen would have been enormously satisfied with the results. His is the first musical contribution we hear, setting the walking pace for the extraordinary opening track The Barbarian. Clocking in at nearly 12 minutes, this compelling story starts with the steadiest of rhythms, Allen working his way around the drum kit. Wasser’s voice is ideal for these conditions, a measured delivery laden with meaning, while Okumu’s slightly stern keyboard gives punctuation.
From this the album takes on a more physical profile. Dinner Date gets intimate, Wasser’s persuasive tones and the sighing viola exerting their richly layered influence. The viola really comes into its own at the start of Geometry Of You, celebrating sensual pleasures in a way weirdly recalling Ariana Grande’s Positions.
Albarn himself appears on Get My Bearings, the two voices nicely dovetailed against some sensitive, paired back keyboards. “Maybe it’s love that rescues us”, sings Wasser softly. The imaginative keyboard colours are a feature of the album, from the sighing chords of The Love Has Got Me to the lean underside of the piano that curls its way around the music of Take Me To Your Leader.
The drums are arguably the stars of the show. Allen uses the snare in a surprisingly tender role, brushing it on the way to a more percussive implement. His contribution drifts on and off the beat, getting through a great deal of stick work but sounding effortless at the same time. On occasion the longer tracks do lose some focus – with the notable exception of The Matador – but even when that happens there are many elements to enjoy.
The trio have a really lovely bond between them but especially on the outtake at the end of Perfect Shade Of Blue, where the closeness and good feeling between them is confirmed. “I’m so glad we set this up as a weekly thing,” says Joan, “Wanna do one more?” They do, hitting the groove with the soulful Reaction, bringing this one-off collaboration to a stately and spatial close.
The knowledge that the collaboration won’t be repeated only enhances its musical value. The Solution Is Restless, by its title alone, does not have all the answers – but its musical debates are gripping. The spectacle of three creative identities finding common ground in a divisive world is both priceless and inspiring.