There's a direct connection between the post-rock experimentalism of Tortoise and the heavy Afrobeat groove of Antibalas, and his name is John McEntire.

McEntire is best known as Tortoise's drummer, primary arranger, and producer, helping to guide the band into major critical appreciation over the last 17 years. The music of the influential Chicago sextet is best described by delineating their approach: no lead instrument; no vocals; complex, patiently unfolding compositions. Nodding toward dub, jazz, rock, and ambient experimentalism, it's not the stuff of mass appeal, but it is smart and sensual and rich with subtle beauty.

Antibalas has been making music half as long as Tortoise, though their blueprint was drawn up 30 years ago by Afrobeat architect Fela Kuti. The 12-member Brooklyn ensemble are highly celebrated torchbearers of Fela's thundering collision of African percussion, funk syncopation, and highly politicized lyricism. Antibalas's fourth full-length, Security (released this March), was the first to diverge markedly from pure, red-hot Afrobeat. The album is chilly and crisp, minimal and meticulous rather than overwhelming. As Security's producer, McEntire played a large part in the evolution of Antibalas's sound.

"I'm really glad they went out on a limb a little bit with some of the new stuff," McEntire says from his Chicago home. "It reflects the new direction their writing has taken, which I applaud."

As appreciation of their scorching, marathon live shows grows, Antibalas has also been accused of an almost slavish dedication to Fela's sound and style, especially on record. Through mutual friends of Antibalas's tenor sax man, Stuart Bogey, McEntire was enlisted as producer expressly because of his artistic distance.

"He'd known about some of the stuff I'd done over the years and felt like it would be a good way for the group to try something different and hopefully bring out another side of what they do," McEntire says.

Security succeeds on that front. Its opener, "Beaten Metal," has a cyborg clang and dubby expansiveness previously unexplored by the band. "Hilo" sways with an almost loungey funk vibe, and "I.C.E." and "Age" both feature extended, languid horn parts, jazzier and more patiently expressive than Antibalas's earlier work.

A self-proclaimed recent convert to Afrobeat—"within the last 10 years"—McEntire never felt restricted by the form or intimidated by the band's mastery of it. "Those guys have that stuff down so well it's not anything to be concerned with," he says. "It was really just understanding how things interlock so all the percussion elements really do work as one unit, as they're meant to be."

One gets the sense that McEntire feels most comfortable in the mode of technician. When asked about the emotional qualities of Afrobeat—what exactly about the music makes it so relentlessly compelling—McEntire pauses. He explains its lack of back beat and high degree of syncopation. "That doesn't describe it emotionally but kind of technically," he says, and stops there.

His precision in attitude and methodology—balanced by total virtuosity behind the drum kit and the mixing board—provides Tortoise's supra-human sound. It lends Antibalas's Security a sense of grand scope and fresh direction. And it's fully distilled on McEntire's most recent project, Bumps, something of a musical tether between the other bands.

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Bumps is Tortoise's three percussionists, McEntire, John Herndon, and Dan Bitney; the band released its self-titled album two weeks ago on underground hiphop label Stones Throw. The album is basically a mix tape of breakbeat sketches, the kind of rhythmic building blocks hiphop producers sample for their own work or DJs blend into other tracks.

"I kinda like the idea of having a pre-mix record for once, instead of a remix," McEntire says. "Maybe these are the constituent parts that will go into something else." He says that Stones Throw is "casting the net for some further developments," looking for MCs to fill in verses over Bumps' beats. McEntire, both genome and catalyst, left the music skeletal and open-ended, encouraging its evolution once it's out of his hands. recommended