Thursday, October 16, 2003

Djana - Brussels, 15/10/2003

Bo van der Werf - bs
Jozef Dumoulin - Rhodes, synth, laptop
Otti van der Werf - el b
Stéphane Galland - d

It had been a long time since I had last been to the Café Central. They regularly put on concerts that usually veer towards free/improvised music, with occasional incursions into turntable territory and one-offs such as Lou Donaldson or Mal Waldron. This concert was one of those exceptions.

Bo van der WerfAll four musicians are part of the slice of the Belgian scene of which AKA Moon (of which Galland is the drummer) is the best-known exponent. A few other noteworthy musicians from this scene are Fabrizio Cassol (saxophonist and leader of AKA Moon), Pierre van Dormael (guitarist), who recently published the magnificent Vivaces and Kris Defoort (who has published several albums on De Werf. Many foreigners participate in this scene: Frenchmen Geoffroy de Masure (trombonist)and Guillaume Orti (saxophonist) and Dutchman Chander Sardjoe all play in Bo van der Werf's Octurn (I am currently writing an article on Bo). This collection of musicians could be thought of as a European answer to Steve Coleman (and several of them have played with Coleman). That's a lazy description, failing to capture all its diversity (for example, AKA Moon is more melodic and less compositionally-based than Octurn and Vivaces is yet another animal), but it will have to do for now.

The quartet is used to playing together, but not necessarily in this formation. Bo van der Werf is a fairly unique baritone player. Starting from a basis of bebop and admiration of Pepper Adams, he moved on to integrate Messiaen's techniques into his playing. As such, his phrasing, note choice and overall mode of expression has little to do with what is thought of as jazz saxophone. It is soft-spoken, introverted and even after a fair amount of listening, leaves me scratching my head. Jozef Dumoulin is one of the newer additions to the scene described above. I first heard him on piano on Eclipse, which is mostly a duo with singer Barbara Wiernik, but I've only ever seen him live on electric keyboards. He seems to be improving on that instrument: moving from a "weird sounds" and pianistic lines approach to something more percussive, textural, abstract and more suited to the instrument. His solo towards the end of the first set was a highlight, tapping into funk-like energy, giving this otherwise difficult music a more immediate appeal.

Stéphane GallandIndeed, the music was difficult, filled with odd meters, shifting tempos and murky structures. The exploratory nature of the music was shown when the musicians themselves seemed pleasantly surprised when they simultaneously brought a piece to an abrupt end. This might have appealed to the music student crowd (hang around them long enough and it's easy to tell who's a music student and who isn't), but certainly did not make for relaxed, easy listening. I asked tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert (who was there along with his frequent employer, pianist Alexi Tuomarila) what he made of it and he admitted to not quite getting everything. Alexi was more confident.

Otti van der Werf added a more legible element: his simple, yet deeply grooving vamps anchored the music, while Galland returned to his usual busy self. One enterprising music student attempted to transcribe one of Galland's grooves, but never quite made it: Galland's super-human playing can't be stolen so easily.

(photo credits: Jos L. Knaepen)