Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geof Bradfield - African Flowers (Origin, 2010)

It is an oft-held maxim that travel broadens the mind. In the case of Chicago based saxophonist Geof Bradfield, that notion is certainly true. Part of a government sponsored music group that visited Africa, Bradfield let the sights and sounds of that distant land percolate in his mind before developing a set of compositions to mark the occasion. Bradfield plays tenor and soprano saxophone in addition to spots for bass clarinet and flute, accompanied by Jeff Parker on guitar, Victor Garcia on trumpet, fugelhorn and percussion, Ryan Cohan on piano, Clark Sommers on bass and George Fludas on drums and percussion. Opening with a joyful and exotic bass and drum groove, "Butare" allows the horns to weave a variety of textures. Bradfield takes a swirling, light toned solo that accentuates the mood. The music takes a darker turn with "The Children's Room," inspired by touring post genocide Rwanda. This is a sad and tender ballad featuring open piano and thick spacious bass. The horns glide overhead, suspended like memory, as the musical landscape passes beneath. "Lubumbashi" lifts the spirits with some fine modern post-bop. Strong tenor saxophone is driven by string pulsing piano, bass and drums. Garcia takes a punchy trumpet solo before Parker glides in for a subtle, understated guitar interlude. "Mama Yemo" is a slow and subtly shaded ballad featuring nice patient saxophone and dark toned and nimble guitar. "Nairobi Transit" is an uptempo performance that benefits from Sommers' excellent thick toned bass, laying the foundation for strong trumpet and saxophone solos. Trading agile phrases over a fast beat, the two horn men come together with deep powerful swirls of music. Spritely sounding piano and percussion give "Kampala" a lightly dancing groove. Big band like horn accents punctuate and drive the music to a full bodied conclusion. Jeff Parker is featured on "The Nurse from Nairobi" where his neon toned guitar explores over a solid beat. Parker and Fludras are locked in and slowly build pace adding drum fills and stinging guitar. The suite "Harare/Leaving Africa" ends the album with slow and subtle saxophone building a fine toned solo. Garcia swings in fast and nimble with a punchy solo. A drum solo links the two pieces together nicely as the whole band returns to take things out. Hopefully many more musicians will have the opportunity to travel widely and report back musically on their travels. This album is in the tradition of legendary predecessors like Duke Ellington's Far East Suite and Dave Brubeck's Jazz Impressions of Japan. Like those albums, Bradfield doesn't try to imitate the music he found in Africa, but allows the experience to be filtered through his jazz sensibility with excellent results. African Flowers - amazon.com

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