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Geof Bradfield: African Flowers

Chris M. Slawecki By

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African Flowers germinated during reed player Geof Bradfield's 2008 performance tour of Africa, co-sponsored by the US State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center, as part of pianist Ryan Cohan's quartet. No stranger to the music of Africa, multi-instrumentalist Bradfield (tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet and flute) arranged singer Miriam Makeba's "Polo Mze" for Seize the Time (Naim Jazz, 2009) by drummer Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls, an ensemble with whom Bradfield has frequently performed in their shared Chicago hometown.

Created through support from Chamber Music America's New Works: Creation & Presentation Program, Bradfield's third release comprises a suite of nine main tunes inspired by the music of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Congo, connected through solo piano, drum, bass and ensemble interludes. "All the pieces use motifs from other pieces," Bradfield explains. "There's no piece that stands alone, that isn't in some way connected to another."

"With African Flowers, I hope to communicate to the listener the expansive spirit and deep soulfulness I experienced as a traveler in Africa."

"Butare" is based on a praise song from Rwanda but grows from New Orleans roots, as its opens with syncopated horn lines that part to allow light to reach its African and jazz rhythmic undergrowth. Because saxophone and trumpet also lead "Nairobi Transit," you catch echoes of the be-bop quintet structure and sound, but their scalding duet expands far beyond bop. "Transit" propels you to the splashing rhythm of "The Nurse from Nairobi," ornamented by guitar and piano solos. "Mama Yemo," the leader's spotlight, serves up a more traditional acoustic jazz ballad sound.

"Lubumbashi" introduces a third continent—South America—by grooving Cuban son into Congolese rumba from Victor Garcia's saucy and hot trumpet solo, to Jeff Parker's electric guitar that threads in and out of the rhythm as sharp and bright as a needle, to George Fludas' slamming funk drums behind Parker's solo, all shimmering in an arrangement that amazingly feels like jazz, Latin jazz and African jazz.

"Harare/Leaving Africa," the finale, roams a broad and verdant vision. Bradfield's sax and Garcia's trumpet jump from chord to chord, with Parker's guitar chirping like a bird on a companion flight. It seems wonderfully fitting that Bradfield's tribute to Africa should conclude with a tune that features such an expansive and expressive drum solo, and that the first instrument to come dancing out from the tumult of its aftermath is Parker's riffing rhythm guitar.

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