CD REVIEW: Flat Earth Society – Untitled #0



Flat Earth Society – Untitled #0
(Igloo IGL299. CD review by Peter Slavid)

There's a long tradition of quirky, experimental, improvising big bands in Belgium and Holland.  Starting with Willem Breuker through Misha Mengelberg and the ICP and others, these bands have a distinctive European sound. The 15-piece Flat Earth Society has been around now for approaching 20 years and sits firmly in that tradition. Their website carries the strapline: “The most unreliable music since 1999.”

That, and the title of this double album, give a clue to the band's nature, so too the naming of the two individual CDs which are called Side 1... and Side A. The sleeve is another clue with a large photo of Tommy Cooper inside the hologram front cover. The music covers a range of influences from Ellington to Mingus to Zappa with extra input from circus and brass band traditions.

Most of the music is composed by the leader, Peter Vermeersch, but there are four from pianist Peter Vandenberghe and one standard – a version of Summertime complete with tweeting birds that would undoubtedly surprise both Gershwin and Miles Davis. The music is very theatrical and the band's live performances emphasise that with lots of movement and chatter. It's no surprise to learn that Vermeersch also writes for cinema and theatre.

But this isn't just a joke. There are plenty of passages of conventional jazz, although there's always a tendency to inject some weird sounds or changed rhythms into the mix. The music is also inclined to veer from improvisation to classic swing and back again. The band is full of outstanding soloists, with Bruno Vansina (baritone) and Bart Maris (trumpet) outstanding, but the beauty of Flat Earth Society is that it is a true ensemble playing exciting, complex music with a real sense of fun.

Peter Vermeersch – clarinet/compositions
Martí Melià – clarinet
Michel Mast – tenor saxophone
Benjamin Boutreur – alto saxophone
Bruno Vansina – baritone saxophone/flute
Pauline Leblond, Bart Maris – trumpet
Peter Delannoye, Marc Meeuwissen – trombone
Berlinde Deman – tuba
Frederik Leroux – guitar
Peter Vandenberghe – piano/keys/compostions
Wim Segers – vibraphone
Kristof Roseeuw – bass
Teun Verbruggen – drums/percussion

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Modern Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz

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