REVIEW: Flat Earth Society – Boggamasta in Antwerp

Flat Earth Society.
L-R: David Bovée, Bruno Vansina, Peter Vermeersch, Pierre Vervloesem
Photo credit: Jan Gitanes

Flat Earth Society – Boggamasta
(De Kern, Wilrijk, Antwerp, Belgium, 5th March. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

It is always a pleasure to catch jazz in Belgium where every gig I have attended in recent years has attracted a large, diverse and enthusiastic audience. On this visit I was the guest of the Flat Earth Society who are premiering and recording their new project Boggamasta this month. I caught the third performance of the new piece in Antwerp.

Boggamasta has been developed by Peter Vermeersch, the main composer for the Flat Earth Society band and David Bovee, guitarist with the band in its early years, but now based in Sao Paulo Brazil. The main inspiration came from a visit to the Gambia last year following an earlier project with four Gambian musicians, but the music also incorporates elements of Brazilian music, particularly the highly rhythmic music of Brazil’s North East.

The music is played straight through without breaks or announcements and its full-on nature works well with a standing audience. The focus is on a frenetic blend of African, Brazilian music, mixed in with jazz, electronica and rock energy. The two composers were inspired by the language and visuals of the recent Gambian presidential election, and have converted these impressions into a series of rapidly delivered songs. These are heavily synthesised in the delivery such that it is, by design, impossible to follow the words, but they add to the overall sound of the ensemble.

The written music generates a series of attractive melodic and rhythmic lines driven by two percussionists but allowing space for soloists. Both the writing and the solos occasionally fall into the trap of emphasising excitement at the expense of subtlety, but overall the music works well and creates a powerful overall effect that clearly resonated with the audience.

Having witnessed Neil Cowley Trio’s new project Spacebound Apes the night before travelling to Antwerp to hear Boggamasta, I was struck by certain similarities in approach between the two projects, similarities in musical philosophy rather than in the actual music.  Neil Cowley Trio draws very successfully on several genres, particularly minimalism, and adds to it a rock energy to produce a music that belongs in the jazz territory, but perhaps lacks the intricacy of the best of contemporary jazz.  In a very different way, Flat Earth Society create a very effective blend of genres that for me definitely belongs in the jazz territory in that the focus is on instrumental music, includes improvised solos from key members of the band and has an eclectic approach to drawing on other styles of music. But it certainly is not music that should be judged with jazz criteria.

The ensemble for this Flat Earth Society project consisted of 15 players, four saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, bass guitar, double bass, keys and two percussionists. It is a regularly funded ensemble founded and led by Peter Vermeersch that develops different repertoire and projects. As well as the Boggamasta project, they will be touring a music and film project developed from footage of a family taking a cruise on the Belgenland SS of the Red Star Line in the 1920s (TRAILER). This involves a different personnel.

Categories: miscellaneous

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