Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Pascal Schumacher Quartet - Antwerpen, 15/09/2003

Pascal Schumacher - vibraphone
Jef Neve - piano
Christope Devisscher - bass
Teun Verbruggen - drums

My oh my... Three words for last night's concert: energy, energy, energy.

I already knew and appreciated the talents of the Belgian rhythm section, but this was my first encounter with Schumacher, who is from Luxembourg (I didn't ask, but probably no relation to Michael and Ralf, despite a passing resemblance).

I may be over-stating the merits of this concert, as I was sitting within striking distance first of the vibraphone, then of the drums, but rarely have I seen young Belgian jazz musicians play acoustic jazz with this combination of energy, enthusiasm, joy and technique. Take away the lacklustre ballads, of which there were few in the incredible first set, too many in the second: these four guys (their collective age would be somewhere around 100) haven't yet mastered the art of dynamics necessary to make the ballads work. That leaves you with roof-raising, no-holds-barred playing on five or so long tunes. The pleasure they took in their music-making was evident, both visually, in the exchange of looks and smiles, and musically. This quartet is recording in November and I hope that this energy and joy can be captured on tape.

Pascal SchumacherPascal Schumacher was a very pleasant revelation. I pretty much never see vibraphone players, yet I've seen three in a little over a week: Belgian drummer Jan de Haas (vibraphone is his second instrument) and Frenchman David Patrois. Schumacher was the most fun of the bunch. When using two mallets, he successfully played fast bop-blues lines with soulful touches. I don't know what the dynamic range of the vibraphone is, but I would have liked to have heard a bit more space in his phrasing.

Teun Verbruggen refuses to settle into anything for too long. While paring down would lead to increased clarity and deeper groove (but maturity can wait!), his overflowing ideas and rhythmic shifts are a joy to behold. In the first piece, Satieology by Schumacher, Verbruggen moved easily between 3/4 and 4/4, sometimes super-imposing them. Later on, even when not formally called for, different rhythmic formulas tumbled forth.

Christophe Devisscher suffered from the "seen but not heard" syndrome that affects so many acoustic bassists, but contributed an enjoyably knotty, spikey and inscrutable composition called Chu Chu's Groove. While the bass remained fairly steady, the drums were even more unsettled than usual, the melodic elements veered towards the abstract and the whole kept on jumping nervously from one improbable construction to the next.

Jef NeveJef Neve (interview, in French) was the man last night, for me. I have and enjoy his debut CD, Blue Saga (review (in Fench), which you can purchase at his website when the second pressing is done), but as a sideman he simply took his playing to another level. On a Joe Henderson composition, Neve provided a long, thoroughly awesome solo which started out in a mid-tempo, spare, funky, bluesy and percussive style and built up towards uptempo bop lines brimming with inventivity and playfulness. On another tune, his climax consisted of splintered chordal pounding. Which is not to say that great intelligence and structural elegance where not in play: they were, in spades. On the standard You and the Night and the Music Neve improvised in a Keith Jarrett fashion, throwing out lots of short, semi-abstract boppish lines, with attentive support provided by the rhythm section.

photo credits: Jos L. Knaepen