Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Jef Neve Trio - 16/06/2004, Brussels

This is the third time I've seen Jef's trio in the space of a few months. I even passed up the France-Croatia game to go see the concert. Following someone like that (I also see him regularly in Pascal Schumacher's Quartet and a few days ago got a CD with Jef as sideman) creates an interesting tension: I've built up so many reference points that there's a sort of objectivity within my (strongly favourable) bias. I can hear (to a degree) when he's pulling an old trick out of the bag and when he's doing something new. I can hear the trio (Piet Verbist on bass and Teun Verbruggen (photo) on drums) evolving, its repertoire getting sharper. I revel in the always radically different piano intros to "When Spring Begins," which have ranged from maudlin hymn to austere abstraction.

One major evolution was the trio's interpretation of standards. Back in March, they had only recently started integrating standards among the original compositions (mainly written by Jef, some by Piet). They slipped into a kind of pastiche of Miles Davis's first quintet's rhythm section or amused themselves by superposing 3 tempi, which "sounded very much like bad jazz well-played." Pleasant, funny, even, but anecdotal. Now it's a different story.

The second set was having a little trouble taking off, when on the fourth song Jef opened with a beautiful, long piano intro. He's a big fan of Russian composers and I think he was taking his not-too-abrasive dissonances from there* (that's another positive evolution: the increasingly imaginative integration of classical music into his jazz playing). The trio eventually slid into "Blame It On My Youth." The slow and spare accompaniment complemented Neve's dramatically pianissimo forays into the upper register, the intro's classical bent came back in discreet touches. Bill Evans probably owns this tune, but Jef was staking a strong claim.

The magnificent first set ended with "Get Yourself A Wheelchair." This tune is as cock-sure as the title suggests, racing between three different tempi. What made it really impressive is that the tempi weren't simple multiples of each other and that the trio didn't jump-cut from one to the other, but accelerated and decelerated together towards the new tempo, over a bar or two.

You know you're gaining fans when people recognise unreleased tunes. When Jef announced "Lament," the person in front of me commented knowingly (in Dutch) to his neighbour "That's a really great tune." It won't remain unreleased too long though, as the recording sessions for Jef's second album are done.

* Not that I actually have any firm knowledge to base that on.