Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hat; Hermeto Pascoal; Llop Borja - 28/10/2005, all over Brussels


Walking is good for you. It's not like I had a choice: the second general strike this month paralysed the city's public transportation system. I walked from Gare Centrale to the end of Antoine Dansaert. Along the way, I discovered Episode, a cool second-hand clothes shop on rue de la Violette. Inside, I fell in love with a hat. 10 euros. I couldn't resist: it's looser-fitting, less rigid and lower on the head than my first hat. It's also brown, rather than black. I carried on to the end of Antoine Dansaert, which evolves from renowned boutiques (Olivier Strelli) to more underground boutiques (Y-Dress) to dusty Moroccan neighbourhood. The people on the street dress accordingly. Right at the end there's an urban art gallery. They were debuting a new show, but I got there too early and didn't feel like hanging around. I'll go another time. I walked from there to Flagey. It took a while, but it's a great trip. Back up Dansaert and Violette (there's a funky bar there called Le Goupil Fol, I think. Also stopped off in a fun little deco shop) and Gare Centrale, up the expensive-chic rue de Namur that runs behind the Royal Palace (past Kenzo and the second men's cosmetics shop of the day, the first being fairly far down Dansaert. I'd never seen one before. Maybe I'd been waiting for that bus and didn't know it?) across the petite ceinture to Porte de Namur down Chaussée d'Ixelles and appetising and affordable sushi restaurant with a black robe-clad Japanese man behind the counter. Just as I get to Café Belga (right in front of Flagey) I bump into Jazzques. We chat and meet some friends of his. Bizarrely, they're all French, so the franco-belgian ration shoots up to 4:1.

Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo

Hermeto Pascoal strides jauntily down the steps of Flagey's Studio 4, salutes the cheering public and launches into semi-classical piano. Busy, animated by an agitated tenderness, full of improbable chord sequences and voicings. A few minutes later, the rest of the band comes down the steps, the maestro gets up and leaves. The band start up and the initial euphoria wears off quickly. The mix is awful, but gets progressively better. More problematic is the music itself: a sort of Brazilian fusion, it's dense and hard-hitting, but also relentless and cold. The saxophonist's sound is hard and pinched. I liked him only on flute, where he became warmer and more generous. The pianist (Pascoal stuck to synth and vocals for the rest of the night) was a tense ball of nervous energy, sometimes impressive, but rarely endearing. Clearly, though, the band was playing its leader's music: tightly controlled and precise. When the 70 minute concert ended, I didn't demand more, but the rest of the crowd did. It was a good thing they did.

Pascoal starts the encore with a brief bit of crowd participation. Suddenly, the music is dancey and light, with hints of calypso and latin jazz coming through. The saxophonist abandons austerity in favour of ebulliance. Pascoal goes into a totally wild synth solo: at first he's singing along to the electronic line, but ends up screaming and shouting. The second encore is marked by the pianist playing alone, lots of ornementation, heavily-struck rhythm and ranging up and down the keyboard, making the rare moment of simplicity startling. The last 30 or so minutes easily top what came before (apart from the Iron Age pipe-organ Pascoal concocted out of the five members of his band and ten hollow metal tubes of varying lengths. One in either hand, they tapped out melodies and rhythms on the ground. Delightful.). Music is a game of two halves, they say.

Llop Borja

Erik Bogaerts - as
Clément Nourry - g,
Frederic Jacques - b
Lionel Beuvens - d
Nicolas Kummert - ts

Jacques and I head out to the Alambic in the former's car. We walk in as Bogaerts is in the middle of a searing free-leaning-bop-over-walking-bass-led-rhythm-section solo. I love that kind of thing and I get the impression that not a lot of people here play like that. Bruno Vansina, maybe. I'd never even heard of Bogaerts, it only took a few seconds for him to let me know that I'd been missing something. And he confirmed that impression throughout the concert.

The quartet's other soloist, Clément Nourry, is someone I've been friendly with for years, but had never really seen play. Sometimes, the situation can be awkward, when you end up not really liking the person's playing. This time, it was almost awkward how much I fell in love with it. Notably, soloing on Coltrane's "Wise One," after a brief Bogaerts intro that had cast a deep spiritual spell and spun a few dervish whirls, Nourry caressed twisted harmonies (he's done some studying and playing with Pierre Van Dormael), slipped into more mainstream jazz lines and then back out before ending with an oriental twist. As the hazy theme re-emerged, he accompanied with plucks that sounded like signals from outer space. All this without sounding random or even eclectic. Phenomenal. More than honourable mentions for an oud-influenced intro and a raging solo on top of horn riffs, like LlB had turned into a soul band.

Along with Jacques's steady grooves and Beuvens's alternately out-and-out motorik or subtle playing, the whole concert was a galvanising shock to the system on the scale of the one I got the first time I saw the Pascal Schumacher Quartet: exciting jazz played energetically and that sounds young and now.

Add to all that the great venue: endearingly shambolic organisation, great food (the quiche is a must) and great prices (a euro for a glass of delicious bio orange juice - I've been avoiding alcohol when I go out, of late -, barely more than that for beer).