Friday, November 21, 2003

Pascal Schumacher Quartet - Brussels, 20/11/2003

Pascal Schumacher - vib
Jef Neve - p
Christophe Devisscher - b
Teun Verbruggen - d

A few days before going into the studio to record their first CD, the quartet went through a trial run in the d'Imprimerie studio's quite nice lobby/bar/performance space. Attentive readers will remember the previous concert I saw of this group. Here, being a trial run, the mood was a bit different: they had decided to try out short versions of the tunes and were thus able to get through 11 compositions. Results were a bit mixed: the energy never reached the explosive levels I witnessed at the Hopper (then again, I'm not sure how well the acoustically bright room would have supported them), but the ballads, such as Schumacher's "Ancil," benefitted greatly from more concentrated and coherent readings. Because of the shorter lengths, the trademark thunderous climaxes were perhaps rushed and ended up feeling a bit forced and mechanical rather than natural and organic releases.

There were, however, a number of highlights, such as Devisscher's "Goodbye Little Godfather," which opened with Verbruggen playing drums with his fingers and Neve strumming the piano strings, all this so softly that you could also hear him tap his fingers against the top of the piano. I badly needed to cough, but held it in so as not to risk breaking the mood. Then came the concert-ending "When Spring Begins," a happy and dynamic poppish Neve composition, on which, half-way through his solo, Schumacher dropped two of his four mallets into the piano to play fast but highly melodic lines, wonderfully supported by Neve's simple pop/gospelly/bluesy chords. Neve's solo started off with one hand providing the basis for 3-way amusement, with many breaks for bass or drums. Earlier on, on "Pink Coffee," another Neve composition, the pianist showed a bit of his "entertainer" side, standing up in throes of ecstasy, then crashing back down on his bench as the solo ended. To end the first set, the quartet played a very surprising re-arrangement and re-harmonisation of "Summertime" (a warhorse if ever there was one), adding a new motif that continued through much of the arrangement. My hope for the recording sessions and subsequent CD, is that they strike a good balance between those songs that benefitted from the concision displayed tonight (or last night, as it is now very early friday morning) and those that need to be stretched out and blown to bits, energy-wise. It is great fun watching this group play together, as they are all visibly happy to be making music together, and I hope that that spirit can be transferred to tape.

After the first concert, I commented that "Teun Verbruggen refuses to settle into anything for too long," but tonight he was far less jumpy - and it worked just as well. A great pleasure was being able to actually hear Devisscher, as he is an impressive player. You'd never guess he started out in heavy-metal bands!

Jef Neve told me that he was planning to record his second CD in February (the follow-up to the excellent Blue Saga) and mentioned some interesting-sounding experimentation the trio is working on (Jef: have you heard Michel Bisceglia's "Second Breath"? And have you talked with Pierre Van Dormael?). While he's an extremely exciting pianist, his composing skills continue to impress me just as much, as they are tuneful, original and interesting. A short new tune played tonight called "Blues For Mr. S" (I didn't think to ask who Mr. S was) sounded much like a Bad Plus tune, and Jef grudgingly admitted as much. I am extremely curious to hear what he has in store. As I always say: 300 Japanese fans can't be wrong!