Much like the Vodoun Effect before it, Echos Hypnotiques focuses largely on material from the group’s ‘70s prime. However, the recordings collected here are culled from the Orchestre’s more professionally recorded releases for Albarika Store. As such, it is marginally more “mainstream” in that it is smoother and less quirky than the secret lo-fi recordings from the first volume. Not by much though—all of the elements that made the Vodoun Effect so infectious are here as well (yet I definitely miss some of the more unhinged organ parts).
There are a couple of things that the Orchestre truly excel at and the main one is turning out some taut, rhythmically complex, and killer grooves. This is best executed by the infectiously propulsive cowbell beat of “Agnan Dekpe,” which also features some nicely arranged brass and understated organ riffing. The second element that sets OPR apart from their peers is their seamless and ravenous assimilation of disparate and wide-ranging influences. For example, “Malin Kpon O” combines clean highlife guitars, a straight funk rhythm section, and psych-tinged organ. Incidently, that song is the one that initially convinced Analog Africa's Samy Ben Redjeb to track down the rest of the band's oeuvre. “Minkou E So Non Moin," on the other hand, seems to borrow liberally from both disco and reggae. A Latin influence is also fairly pervasive at times (such as on “Zizi”), but the group’s primary reference point is almost always the traditional ritual percussion of their native Benin.
Or course, the Orchestre definitely have some conspicuous weaknesses too. The main one is that a lot of their material more closely resembles an extended vamp than a tightly structured song. This is a mixed blessing, as when they lock into an incredibly funky rhythm like that of “Houne Djein Nada,” I’m more than happy to let it continue uninterrupted. Unfortunately, when the groove is not so compelling, songs can seem very flabby and tedious. “Mede Ma Gnin Messe” is probably the worst offender, as it is relentlessly cheery and repetitive and drags on for an excruciating nine minutes. There also seems to be an inability to cut loose extraneous instrumentation at times, which results in a substantial amount of clutter, meandering solos, and distracting noodling.
That said, such shortcomings merely mean that Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is a “singles band.” There are a lot of great songs here, they just aren’t frequent enough to justify regularly playing the entire album straight through. At their best, the Orchestre’s rhythm section is as funky, vibrant, and exhilarating as nearly anybody. It's good to see them finally get their due.
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