Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pascal Schumacher Quartet - 18/07/2005, Antwerpen

posted from flickr

Two weeks ago we had gone up to the Hopper, a 45-minute drive away, to see Pascal and Jef in duo (something I've been waiting to see for a long while, a wait that seems justified, see below), but due to something of a scheduling conflict, the entire quartet was performing in South Africa at the time. They were replaced by a random band and a loud audience. This time, everyone was in their right place and the monday night Hopper crowd allowed itself to be tamed. The Hopper itself is an important jazz institution, doing in Antwerpen what the Sounds does in Brussels: a smallish bar that has a lot of concerts and gives musicians young and old space to develop bands, with month-long monday (and occasionally tuesday) residencies. The Sounds provides a more pleasant listening experience, though.

Almost a year ago, the PSQ won a French competition, the main reward of which is two days in one of France's finest recording studios. They're heading there in a couple of weeks' time, so tonight's concert was a bit of a preview for the group's second album, scheduled for release in November.

We stood at the bar for the first set, which isn't the ideal place for listening or comfort and my enjoyment was probably impacted. They started with Bud Powell's "John's Abbey," a fast bebop tune to warm up with. I don't consider the PSQ to be a bebop band and probably wouldn't like them nearly as much if it were their bread 'n' butter: I can think of better places to get my straight bop, so that's not where their comparative advantage lies. Things really started cooking with Neve's sure-fire "Blues for Mr. P.S.," by now an old favourite. The theme doesn't necessarily tell you it's a blues, but the piano solo does. Then came an exotic Mike Mainieri tune: a biguine-type bass and a tom-based (as opposed to cymbal-based) rhythmic pattern give off a slow, sultry Caribbean steam (kind of like a Bacardi ad's visuals), while the vibraphone melody delights in wide and oddly melodic intervals and the piano solos in a wonderful reflective (the use of octaves, perhaps?) Cuban mood. The first set ended with Schumacher's "Kitchen Story," which starts gently but discord erupts periodically, as if to evoke a blender's sudden cacophony. Metric shifts emphasise the mood swings as waltz becomes harsh 4/4 rock.

The undisputed highlight of the second set was a medley of Neve's "Flim Music" (new to my ears) and Cole Porter's "You and the night and the music" (they've been playing that one for a while). Neve uncorked one of his trademark intros, which are unpredictable (simple or complex, happy or sad or playfully weepy) but incredibly penetrating. Here, the key moment was a quiet, rising 3-note arpeggio that brought the chattering crowd to a talkstill through sheer simplicity and obstinate repetition. The song could then burst forth boldly and joyously, with something of a Keith Jarrett European Quartet feel. The transition to the Porter was handled as a demanding and magnificent piano-vibraphone duo: seamlessly blending water-surface textures, complex interlocking rhythms and fast unison lines, it was breath-taking. As an encore, we were treated to a Belgian premiere: a light, happy South African song learnt during the tour and powered by an irresistable dance rhythm.

Clearly, the band is still moving forward, even if many of the basic parameters are set. The old sense of joy of playing together is still there and individually, the players continue to evolve: for example, Schumacher seemed to me more fluid on four mallets than he used to. Tellingly, he never reverted to two.