Released - January 2022
Label - Sdban Ultra
A consistent conundrum facing jazz musicians is just how to create a project that is, at once, as complex as it is immersive. It is truly a precarious balancing act, juxtaposing the desire to drown the listener in sonic beauty whilst retaining the necessary radical expression of the form. Belgian quintet Black Flower explore this concept expertly on their fifth album 'Magma' - an otherworldly listen that blends electronica, Ethio-jazz, krautrock, Brazilian fusion, and psychedelia for what's likely to be one of the year's most affecting releases.
Fitting the album’s molten title, the pieces within are at once fluid and expressly defined as they deftly convince you to engage with every aspect until they all translate. The title track comprises ambient synths that form beautiful repeated arpeggios as typically psychedelic organs wail transportive melodies. The drums reply with dreamily executed accuracy, blending the project’s complex idiosyncrasies. It acts as a fantastic entry point to the world of 'Magma', littered with brooding saxophones and rich, ornate cornets presenting a more familiar jazz sound that just slightly reveals the high-risk high-reward experimentation further on.
Second track ‘O Fogo’ with its luminous pirouetting woodwinds, cascading bass and delicate piano lines, swims with mythological beauty in and out of delayed soundscapes, returning to undeniably East African inspired organ lines blended with early krautrock. This theme continues into fourth 'Half Liquid' that submerges you in bliss before encasing you in a quicksand of keyboards and percussion and a beautiful sax line, tempting you back every time with a new melodic idea.
The work’s seven-minute centrepiece ‘Deep Dive Down’ opens as a bouncing two-chord progression that evolves into a polyrhythm aside a beautiful example of Nathan Daems’ woodwind work which is reminiscent of South American traditional music a-top repetitive synth variations of the initial theme and pulsing rolling toms tuned to traditional timbre. The cornet playing from Jon Birdsong ends up in the background more than any other instrument here.
‘The Forge’ opens with distorted brass leading to softer synth work. The wonderfully dry 60’s bass is the first of many deliberately emphasised individual instrumentalists and it is here we truly hear the influence of Fela Kuti’s unmistakable clean organ sound. There is further utilisation of the Ethiopian influence as producer Frederik Segers takes advantage of the band's wildness extracting as much colour as he can, egging Birdsong's cornet to warble and Daems' saxophone to sputter over the lightning-fast grooves.
Having worked together for almost a decade, Black Flower through blending nu-jazz electronic and long-lived traditional styles, seem to have relinquished the desire to fight for your attention through big, bright compositions. This new work would not be the same without the addition of new band recruit Karel Cuelenaere, whose magnificent keyboard work regulates the flow of every track. The strangest addition to the album however, is singer/songwriter Meskerem Mees, who vocally states the album's mission statement on sixth track 'Morning in the Jungle'. Having won the Montreux Jazz Talent Award last year, her writing gives visual definition to the album overall, she sings of the complimentary essence of every natural element, the smoothness with which things flow.
When Segers decides to make the bass darker and the flutes bioluminescent on 'Blue Speck', it ends the album off in a perfectly crepuscular fashion. Re-listening to 'Magma' for the third or fourth time, the album becomes ever more tactile. Every rushing flute becomes a soaring bird through the tropics, chilly keyboards send gusts of early morning air across your skin. What 'Magma' does best is its embodiment of the world around us, never treating confusion as an imperfection in their work, but instead as the pure and unaltered state of things. It's hard to go out into the forest, up in the mountains, or out onto the barren coast and not be stunned by how massive it all is; no mind can truly comprehend it. Black Flower leans into that inscrutability, that feeling you're not quite getting everything you want and uses it to make 'Magma' a rewarding listen over and over again.