Over the last decade Nigerian Afrobeat disciple Femi Kuti has delivered punchy and inventive performances in Los Angeles, several of them at the Hollywood Bowl where he has found a welcoming home. So, too, has the trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who balances leadership of his jazz quintet with scoring films such as “Miracle at St. Anna” and “Inside Man.” In sharing the bill at the Bowl, Blanchard took the cerebral role by partnering with the Lula Washington Dance Theater and employing quotations from Dr. Cornell West, while Femi went for high-energy dance party with a message of peace and unity in Africa.
For 75 minutes, Kuti kept the African funk pumping at a vigorous pace, taking the tempo down only here and there to focus on his pleas for African unity and an improvement in living and working conditions. He stayed on message more than in the past, partly owing to his use of English in nearly every song. Unlike his late father Fela, whose life and music is celebrated in the hit Broadway musical, Femi is keeping the songs short, which has greatly cut down on the number of solos from Femi (who plays his saxophone in a Coltrane-ish style) and his band members.
Blanchard was thrust into a far riskier task, performing a half-dozen numbers from his 2009 Concord Records release “Choices” while members of the Lula Washington troupe did interpretive dances. After performing two numbers sans hoofers — he offered one knotty, non-linear number and a cinematic ballad that emphasized the considerable talents of Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan — Blanchard’s music went in a string of varying directions. The dancers, whose choreography called for leaps, sprints and held leg extensions, often connected with a joyous spirit at the root of Blanchard’s music that does not necessarily get conveyed on its top layer. The dancers followed the drums and bass while Blanchard, saxophonist Brice Winston, Almazan and the voice of Dr. West gave the audience something to contemplate. When it concluded on a number that was all about limbs and hips, the musicians and dancers found the unity that Femi Kuti spoke of so fervently.
The electric bassist Richard Bona opened the evening with a calm set that fused African, Latin and island styles with pop and jazz. Only when the band segued from an original into Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke– did they catch the sort of fire needed to satisfy a Bowl crowd.