In 2008 Chicago reedist Geof Bradfield was part of a quartet led by pianist Ryan Cohan that traveled around east Africa as part of a State Department program called the Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad. The following year Bradfield premiered a suite inspired by the trip, African Flowers
, that ranks as one of the greatest achievements of his career. Four years later Cohan is sharing his take on his travels in Africa—he’s taken two subsequent tours—with The River
(Motema), a suite he wrote for a septet that includes Bradfield. Cohan alternates between solo pieces and richly arranged group compositions, all of them inspired to some degree by the people he met: “Arrival” sparkles with the hopeful ebullience of first meetings, and the turbulent tension of “Storm Rising” reflects on the genocide in Rwanda, the civil war in the Congo, and the brutal reign of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe (according to the liner notes—the music is instrumental). Though Cohan doesn’t quote or imitate African styles, what he saw and heard there has obviously energized his postbop writing; he’s also clearly a fan of pianist Randy Weston, one of the first jazz musicians to live in Africa and deal rigorously with its music, and you can hear that influence in the driving, bass-heavy left-hand parts, as well as in the way some of the melodies interact with them. Cohan’s arrangements bring out an orchestral depth in his sharp ensemble—reedists Bradfield and John Wojciechowski, trumpeter Tito Carrillo, bassist Lorin Cohen, drummer Kobie Watkins, and percussionist Samuel Torres, all of whom will perform at this weekend’s three album-release shows. —Peter Margasak Ryan Cohan also performs at Green Mill on Fri 9/13 and Sat 9/14.