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Geof Bradfield: African Flowers

Mark Corroto By

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Saxophonist Geof Bradfield's experiences traveling and performing in Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in 2008 were the inspiration for African Flowers. Bradfield was a member of pianist Ryan Cohan's quartet, and the band took part in a US State Department/Jazz at Lincoln Center tour. This extended work for sextet features excellent writing and strong musicianship from Cohan, guitarist Jeff Parker, trumpeter Victor Garcia, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer George Fludas.

African Flowers follows the quartet release Urban Nomad (Origin, 2008) and Bradfield's stunning trio debut, Rule Of Three (Liberated Zone Records, 2003).

While Africa was the inspiration for this release; this is not world music. Better described as "jazz world music," Bradfield connects the dots between African folk music and the American jazz tradition. The opening "Butare," based on a Rwandan praise song, conjures thoughts of Don Cherry and, with Bradfield hoisting a soprano saxophone, there are a few passing references to John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things."

The evidence that American jazz contains African DNA is not disputed these days—from the blues to swing, the seeds that germinated in United States soil were planted centuries ago in Africa. Bradfield's fluid suite travels seamlessly, with some agile interludes provided by piano, drum and bass solos. On the touching ballad "The Children's Room," written after a visit to the genocide memorial in Rwanda, Bradfield switches to bass clarinet; his woody sound mingling with Sommers' resonating bass and Garcia's mournful trumpet.

Bradfield returns to tenor for the Congolese Rhumba, "Lubumbashi." Attentive ears might place this piece not in Africa but somewhere closer, perhaps Cuba or Puerto Rico. While Fludas drives the clavé, the horns dance around the threading needle of Parker's guitar notes. Elsewhere, the music may be called taarab; a blend from Africa, Middle East, and Europe, but the sound on "Nairobi Transit" evokes the mighty Art Blakey and his muscular brand of hard bop.

Bradfield's excellent jazz adventure into Africa ultimately leads right back home. Funny, how small this world actually is. This is one beautiful record.

Track Listing: Butare; Piano Solo; The Children's Room; Lubumbashi; Mama Yemo; Drum Solo; Nairobi Transit; Prelude; Kampala; Bass Solo; The Nurse From Nairobi; Harare/Leaving Africa.

Personnel: Geof Bradfield: tenor saxophone, soprano sxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Ryan Cohan: piano; Jeff Parker: guitar; Victor Garcia:trumpet, flugelhorn, congas, percussion; Clark Sommers: bass; George Fludas: drums, percussion.

Title: African Flowers | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Origin Records

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