Flat Earth Society

Psychoscout

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Flat Earth Society has been making some great, adventurous big-band music for almost a decade, but they're only starting to gain attention outside their native Belgium. Mike Patton helped raise their profile by releasing Isms, a collection taken from their previous four releases, but Psychoscout is their first album of new material to be released worldwide. Leader Peter Vermeersch's compositions share some similarities with Willem Breuker: episodic writing that moves quickly from theme to theme with a healthy dose of humor, but FES doesn't have the almost slapstick element that Breuker's Kollektief can have. Vermeersch's tunes are highly cinematic, and would be put to good use in an exciting chase scene ("In Between Rivers," "Lax") or a hard-boiled detective flick ("Lie to Me"). The players are all great, with some especially nice piano by Peter Vandenberghe, fiery solos from Benjamin Boutreur on alto, Vermeersch on clarinet, and the addition of organ or synth on some tracks which gives the big band quite a different flavor than most big bands. FES can also bring the energy down and deliver a smoky ballad, with vibraphones adding a nice nocturnal touch on "Lie to Me." "Without" starts with a slow piano figure and some outside horn playing before moving into a section with spooky keyboards and vibes, and then into a lurching groove. They really know how to use dynamics to keep the pieces moving, and Vermeersch's horn charts are fantastic. If you thought big band music in the 21st century was confined to repertory bands, think again. Flat Earth Society is a hard-swinging outfit that knows the past but has its eye on the future, and Psychoscout shows that there's a whole lot of life yet in the big band tradition.

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