Sit up and listen. Flat Earth Society is a big band with the integrity of a magpie, in the sense that it goes for the shiniest elements of a cultural outlook that takes in a kind of homage to Kurt Weill, incidental music for old TV detective series, and perhaps a touch of Henry Cow at its most formal. All that makes for listening that could have you laughing out loud or wondering happily over the sheer bravura of it all.
Catch an earful of "Clusterthing," featuring a riff ponderous enough to make a stampede of elephants seem fleet of foot by comparison, and traces of such formidable complexity that they should only be listened to whilst grinning maniacally. You might just find your outlook on life is transformed in an entirely positive way. By comparison, "Hilton's Heaven" is an exercise in dark restraint in which deft keyboard touches serve notice of how this band has mastered colour, shedding some light upon the twilit ambience; Roland Vancampennout's vocal sounds like a Belgian J.J. Cale.
When it comes down to it, this is a big band whose music effectively sidesteps the common discussion of the respective merits of sections and soloists. That said, Marc Meeuwissen's trombone on the title track is an embodiment of the bawdy, whilst Bruno Vansina's baritone sax on the oddly named "Lax" blows up the kind of vertiginous storm that's likely to have those of nervous disposition running for cover.
Even greater credit must go to clarinettist Peter Vermeersch and keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe, however, as their compositions make up the programme on Psychoscoutand only rarely in recent times has such coherence between compositional framework and musicianship been acheived. To call it "Ellingtonian" might be both apt and unhelpful, but it doesn't alter the fact that this disc ought to be figuring in those end of year lists, if there's any justice in the world.
Track Listing: Anthem 2004; Clusterthing; Gulls & Buoys; Edward, Why Don't You Play Some Blues?; Hilton's Heaven; In Between Rivers; Psychoscout; Lie To Me; Without; Snaggletooth; Lax; Waterman; Ich, Bin, George.
Personnel: Peter Vermeersch: composer, clarinet; Tom Wouters: clarinet, vibraphone; Benjamin Boutreur:
alto saxophone; Michel Mast: tenor saxophone; Bruno Vansina: baritone saxophone; Luc van
Lieshout: trumpet; Bart Maris: trumpet; Marc Meeuwissen: trombone; Stefaan Blancke:
trombone; Berlinde Deman: tuba; Peter Vandenberghe: piano, keyboards; Wim Willaert:
accordion, keyboards; Kristof Roseeuw: double bass; Teun Verbruggen: drums; Roland
Vancampenhout: guitar (4), vocals (5).
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.