Reed player Geof Bradfield's U.S. State Dept. sponsored trip across Africa in 2008 affected him greatly and resulted in his writing the music for his new album African Flowers
based on his experiences. We covered his concert presenting this music at the Chicago Cultural Center last October (see our review and photos from that event here ) and were struck at the time at how the trip to the African continent had pushed Bradfield's writing into new and especially rewarding directions. Bradfield thankfully doesn't try to simply recreate African music, but rather uses the sounds and people he encountered as inspiration for his original jazz oriented compositions. Native musical styles from Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo are fused with Bradfield's own personal vision and performed by a talented combo consisting of Bradfield, trumpeter Victor Garcia, guitarist Jeff Parker, pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer George Fludas. Album opener "Butare" immediately sets the tone of the recording, starting our musical journey with a sense of wonder and a sparkling Bradfield soprano solo over Fludas' impressive drumming. Cohan also adds a pleasing solo here before taking a solo piano turn that leads into Bradfield's most haunting composition - "The Children's Room" - a sadly meditative ballad inspired by a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center with a room dedicated to the child victims of genocide. Garcia's muted horn and Bradfield's bass clarinet set a mournful tone, to which Sommers and Cohan add thoughtful solos. Bradfield paints with sounds and textures as colorful as the flowers and culture of Africa and listeners will truly enjoy songs like the rumba-based "Lubumbashi" - with great tenor work from the talented bandleader, a sizzling trumpet solo by Garcia and Parker and Cohan emulating mbiras on their instruments. The lovely "Mama Yemo," skittering "Nairobi Transit," polyrhythmic "Kampala" and vaguely unsettling "The Nurse from Nairobi" all are compositions of depth and complexity - which show how much Bradfield has grown as a composer since his fine Urban Nomad release - and these pieces are bridged by well-played drum, bass and guitar interludes. Meanwhile, the album mix throughout captures the bright, clean sound well. "Harare/Leaving Africa" is a 10:34 opus that recalls Randy Weston and ends the album on a true high, with Fludas on fire and some of Garcia's best work on record. Mature and exciting work from an ascendant player and composer.