Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"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 drummerTed 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." -AllAboutJazz
"Saxophonist Geof Bradfield's experiences traveling and performing in Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in 2008 were the inspiration forAfrican 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 mightyArt 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." -ALlAboutJazz
JazzTimes (p.66) - "[T]ogether the band delivers entrancing polyrhythmic themes like the melodic Rwandan praise song 'Butare' and the danceable Congolese rumba 'Lubumbashi'..."
Personnel: Geof Bradfield (flute, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Jeff Parker (guitar); Victor Garcia (trumpet, flugelhorn, congas, percussion); Ryan Cohan (piano); George Fludas (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Rich Breen .
Liner Note Author: Peter Margasak.
Recording information: Studiomedia, Chicago, IL (10/12/2009-10/14/2009).
Photographers: Geof Bradfield; Jordan Chesbrough; Richard Loader.
Geof Bradfield received a grant from the Chamber Music America's New Works: Creation and Presentation Program to compose the music heard on African Flowers, his fourth CD as a leader. The money invested in the multi-reed player proved to be an excellent investment. Prior to writing the music, Bradfield traveled to Africa, and like many jazz musicians who have journeyed overseas to hear other forms of music, he absorbed what he heard and blended influences from them with his own original ideas. Recruiting a first-rate cast of musicians, including trumpeter/flügelhornist Victor Garcia, pianist Ryan Cohen, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Clark Sommers, and percussionist George Fludas, the band had an opportunity to play Bradfield's music in concert a few times prior to entering the studio for a few days in the fall of 2009, resulting in performances where the players were quite comfortable with these new works. "Butare" is a lively opener suggesting a celebratory dance with the leader's playful soprano sax as its centerpiece over the driving percussion. The title of the lush ballad "The Children's Room" seems self-explanatory, suggesting proud parents beaming as they check on their sleeping children; the understated nature of the piece is beautifully interpreted by the musicians, with a focus on the rhythm section and gorgeous ensemble work featuring Bradfield on bass clarinet and Garcia's muted horn. "The Nurse From Nairobi" centers on Parker's intricate guitar solo, fueled by the potent rhythm section. Bradfield also incorporates individual tracks as solo features for piano, drums, and bass as musical segues. Africa seen through the prism of Geof Bradfield's music proves to be a delightful experience. ~ Ken Dryden