Sunday, April 18, 2004

Michel Bisceglia Trio - 16/04/2004, Brussels

Michel Bisceglia - p
Werner Lauscher - b
Marc Lehan - d

Last year, Belgian pianist Michel Bisceglia released his third album, Second Breath, a work steeped in subtlety. So much so that, listening to it before heading off to the concert, I realised, many months later, how much I under-valued it in my review. American listeners will be able to make up their own minds, as the album is to be released across the Atlantic by Omnitone next month. I have not heard his first two albums, but Second Breath is a very good representation of what this trio does. Also, his trio be playing at the Rochester Jazz Festival on the 7th of June.

Bisceglia doesn't go for the big punchline, the ear-catching phrase or the dramatic climax. Rather than waves crashing on the beach, his music tends to seamlessly undulate like the open sea: a solo may begin and end at any time without warning, and pieces are studies in accretion and dissolution. In this sense, he has abandoned the traditional narrative arc, the sense of going from here to there and coming back in favour of dipping into an ongoing meditation, of which any individual solo is only a fragment of. This sounds like a recipe for rather abstract music, but in fact his group concept comes out of the legacy of Bill Evans's quietly free-wheeling trios. Therefore, from a remove, the music is attractively tender, but a closer inspection reveals a myriad of fascinating details, unexpected twists and a steadfast unsentimentality.

Werner Lauscher and Marc Lehan can depart from time-keeping roles at will to engage in an intricate triologue, at which times the music seems to move forward of its own volition: an alchemist's secret, unlocked. Lehan, especially, concentrates not on virtuosity of the fingers, but of the ear. This is audible on the record, but even more evident in concert. His face screws up as he searches (mostly using synthetic brushes: when he picked up one or two sticks, or mallets, the reasons for these choices were clear) for the perfect colour, attack, shading and dynamic. Indeed, rarely have I heard a drummer with such a keen ear for, and utmost dedication to, those elements: both the loudest slap of the snare drum and the quietest of sweeps on a cymbal seem to receive equal amounts of deliberation. His skinny setup indicates his concerns: no floor tom, a bass drum hardly bigger than the larger of his two toms, two cymbals placed as close as possible to the toms, a hi-hat and a cow-print stool.

The concert began with "The Epic," a mostly modal composition that was magical and captivating from the first notes of its short, repeated melody. The Miles Davis (or perhaps as Bisceglia reminded us, Bill Evans) standard "Blue in Green" fit this trio like a glove, as Lehan worked on cymbals and hi-hat over Lauscher's ostinato to create an airy, light vista. Their arrangement includes a slightly funky coda, in which a groove solidified and dissipated, as signaled by only a few notes from piano or drums. Or perhaps these changes were not intimated by the notes themselves, but the intention of the notes.

When the pace picked up, the group went in different directions, but maintained their central aesthetic. Bisceglia's "Septfolie" went through 7 keys in 12 bars and sounded kinda Monkish. Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High" was a surprising choice of standard, but Bisceglia treated it as if it were an original, rather than as a period piece: while its uptempo swing put some muscle on the trio's body, grace and restraint were maintained. A similar effect was achieved as Bisceglia's piano skittered over an original that sounded something like Chick Corea's "Matrix." His most easily recognisable standard was, as on the album, Jacques Brel's "Les Ports d'Amsterdam." Mischeviously, the theme was followed by the most abstract improvising of the night. On "One Finger Snap," [1] I notice another unexpected element: Lehan has a second bass drum pedal next to his hi-hat pedal. By that time, I was already expecting the unexpected.

Michel Bisceglia's website

[1] A few days ago, I heard a version of this played by Herbie Hancock on a newly-released trio album, Live in New York (recorded 1993). It's an exhiliratingly relentless high-octane bulldoze through the piece, which is perhaps worth the price of the CD by itself.