African Journeys featuring Ryan Cohan and Geof Bradfield at Millennium Park | Concert preview
An African tour resonates in new tunes by two local jazz cohorts.
As literal as program titles get, African Journeys does best sum up the multi-country trek taken by local jazzmen Ryan Cohan and Geof Bradfield. The well-acquainted pianist and reedist visited the continent three years ago when Cohan’s band (which includes Bradfield) toured Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe as part of a joint effort between the U.S. State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center. The act of cultural diplomacy resulted in the music featured in tonight’s concert, part of the Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz summer concert series.
Bradfield’s band opens with selections from his latest as a leader, African Flowers, the track list of which reads like the tour route: “Butare,” “Lubumbashi,” “Kampala.” Cohan backs him on keys and Bradfield returns the favor when Cohan’s combo reprises “The River,” a multi-song suite debuted at the Old Town School last year. Sobering subject matter such as the Rwandan genocide stands in sharp relief amid scattered stylistic nods, not least to the mbira tones that hooked both Cohan and Bradfield.
Trombonist Vincent Gardner and percussionist Samuel Torres sit in with Bradfield’s and Cohan’s groups, respectively, making each outfit a septet for the evening. It’s elegant postbop though and through—you won’t confuse this stuff for soukous. Yet the tasteful use of polyrhythms and non-Western modes underscore where this music is rooted.