Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Cuong Vu Trio & Flat Earth Society - Antwerp, 21/10/2003

Cuong VuCuong Vu - tp, electronics
Stomu Takeishi - el b
Elliot Kavee - d

I got to the de Singel, a massive arts complex, a tiny bit late, so I had to wait for the end of the first piece to enter the room. I found this totally ridiculous: this isn't classical music. It's electronic, it's loud, it's fairly simple and I didn't even have to disturb anyone to get to my assigned seat. Anyway, on with the show.

I actually listened to Cuong Vu (Come Play With Me) for the first time the morning of the concert and some of the same songs were played that night. Globally, the music sounds like a mix of Miles Davis circa Big Fun and more modern rock and noise influences. Vu also does a fair amount of knob-twiddling to fill out the trio sound with layers of trumpet, as did Stomu Takeishi by looping lines on his bass. Songs tended to follow a general theme-group looseness-theme structure. I say "group looseness" because there weren't really any solos as they are generally conceived in jazz. At its best, the group moved together in a way analoguous to the Esbjorn Svensson Trio or The Bad Plus (but with very different musical results). Less interesting were the moments when the group drifted apart, though they may have served as scene-setting contrasts. The trumpet melodies were calm and pastoral, even when aggressively challenged by bass and drums.

The very last piece abandoned melody for a noisy soundscape underpinned by wildly shifting pulses by Elliot Kavee: from a slow 12/8 to fleet drum'n'bass, from loud to soft in mere instants. Suddenly, a rocking riff would come in, creating a great head-nodding groove, followed by more disintegration. When that riff came back to end the piece and the concert, I was uninterested and I'm not sure why.

Two odd events at the end of the show: first, a lone boo-er amid the applause and second, each of the musicians received a bouquet of white flowers. Maybe it's a tradition at de Singel.

Flat Earth Society
Peter Vermeesch - leader, cl
Too many others to list

I've been greatly enjoying The Armstrong Mutations, which I discussed briefly last month. The Flat Earth Society is "a band of rebels," according to the Toots Thielemans on their website. Certainly, the 17-piece big band is full of humour, fun and clever stylistic mish-mashing. The Armstrong Mutations is about taking music by or associated with Louis Armstrong, along with other pieces such as "Caravan" and original compositions and presenting it all in a quilt that goes from ragtime, stride and dixieland through to r&b and Cecil Taylor.

The Armstrong MutationsThe concert started great: the two percussionists were on stage doing nearly nothing for about a minute. Then, a clarinettist, trumpeter and trombonist (a dixieland frontline) entered from behind the audience and played some wonderful dixieland counterpoint walking down the aisle. Other highlights included clarinettist Tom Wouters shouting vocals over the powerful "King Ink," a great piano-brass-vocals rendition of "What a Wonderful World," featuring wonderfully soft brass voicings, which was followed by an 5-reed tune over a bass clarinet vamp that had a feeling similar to a slow "Caravan." "Caravan" itself closed the set, the synthesizer (of some sort, looked pretty old and had a sci-fi sound) rendition of the melody shows the kind of irreverence FES does well. The encore consisted of an off-mike trio of vocals, tuba and brushes-on-floor song playing something about "Mr. Monotony." Halfway through the song, the rest of the band members (who were off-stage) suddenly leaned out from behind the side curtains to add some group vocals.

Flowers were also handed out, but only to FES's leader. I guess de Singel is on a budget.