Flat Earth Society

Bonk

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Bandleader, composer, and clarinetist Peter Vermeersch's Flat Earth Society includes several members of his '90s ensemble X-Legged Sally in its lineup, including saxophonist Michel Mast, trumpeter Bart Maris, drummer Danny Van Hoeck, and keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe. But, with 16 musicians instead of X-Legged Sally's seven, Flat Earth Society is far more ambitious than Vermeersch's earlier group, providing the composer an opportunity to write and perform music that sprawls across a much broader canvas. Bonk, Flat Earth Society's first full-length studio recording, begins with an anthemic fanfare entitled "Today's Yeasting for Tomorrow," recalling Frank Zappa's large-ensemble arrangements on The Grand Wazoo. The next several tracks on Bonk are like X-Legged Sally writ large. Fans of the earlier band will likely find it difficult to suppress grins as soon as the madhouse saxophone riffing kicks in over a ferocious 9/8 groove in "Cruisin' for the Bruisin'." Inventive big-band charts bracket a wild clarinet solo from Vermeersch on the midtempo "Prepare for the First Landing on Klinton," and the waltzing "Black Snow" (with one of several powerful vocal performances by Anja Kowalski) becomes markedly more unhinged as it progresses, after beginning as a deceptively simple, singsong cabaret tune. Ultimately, after forays into Middle Eastern and South Asian music, demonically reharmonized Rodgers & Hammerstein (the chorus of "Do-Re-Me" from The Sound of Music, which pounds away during "February-March"), and a couple of covers from the Residents' Duck Stab LP, the overabundance of influences on Bonk may prove a bit disorienting. But Bonk is so wide-ranging (not to mention densely constructed, expertly performed, and well-recorded) that its sheer ambition trumps any lack of thematic coherence. A wildly entertaining ride, Bonk is a strong entry in the discography of Peter Vermeersch and his colleagues on the Belgian/Flemish creative music scene.

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