Review: Black Flower @ Rich Mix (London, 12th September 2015)

In support of their debut album, Abyssinia Afterlife, Black Flower ambled on to the stage at a sparsely populated Rich Mix last Saturday and proceeded to transport us to a magical land. As the title of this record suggests, it is an imagined journey through a dream-like garden of the afterlife.

A fusion of afrobeat, ska, dub reggae and jazz, this horn led quintet created a massive sound that had quite a hypnotic effect at times. Reminiscent of the deep and penetrative resonance of Billy Cobham’s Stratus, as with Upwards, of classic Fela Kuti afrobeat and the mystical jazz of John Klemmer, there seemed to be a plethora of influence from far and wide.

There was plenty of space within the musical framework for a protracted solo, each of the musicians having their moment, at times there was the feeling of being in a jazz club. An Ethiopian jazz club. Clearly, there was a strong sense of continuing that lineage, one of Mulatu Astatke and the like. Here, it was more about the listening than the dancing. However, with an opus like Jungle Desert, where afrobeat met a New Orleans marching band, there was time for dancing. Black Flower’s founder, Nathan Daems, wanted to give his imagination a musical reality and to present that to an audience. Some of his saxophone tones most definitely had an ethereal quality to them. When blowing the baritone, coupled with Wouter Haest’s keyboard, there was another dream-like feel, like being on a funky fairground ride. Filip Vandebril’s bass playing had an ease to it that allowed the groove, whatever tempo, to underpin the essence of the band along with Simon Segers’ energetic drumming. If I squinted, this was Dave Grohl, had he chosen a different musical path. Jon Birdsong, a Texan native, rounded out the group with his mellifluous tone on the cornet.

Black Flower’s tour was scheduled to coincide with Addis Amet, Ethiopian new year and there was certainly an effort to celebrate this, but despite the strong connection amongst the musicians on stage, there was something of a disconnect with the rest of us. As with most dreams, there was perhaps an issue with linking things up and with the telling of a story. So many different styles and textures, crammed in to one hour. Musically adroit and dexterous, there was a huge amount to be enjoyed. But I can’t help thinking that there could- and will- be so much more, when the engagement with the audience becomes both more natural and more thorough. Black Flower will certainly be welcomed back.


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