Sunday, July 31, 2005

The death of the jazz festival


It's pretty sad when what used to be a major jazz festival is run by someone who declares things such as:

We have to draw up a very diverse programme. Today, there isn't a single jazz artist capable of attracting as many people as the site can contain. All the greats are dead.

One way to guarantee the non-jazzness of your jazz festival is to design it so that jazz musicians can't play there:

We have to book extremely festive things so that the sound from the different stages don't cover each other. This place isn't adapted to hosting Sonny Rollins or Keith Jarrett.

The article states that only four of the eight nights drew more than 6,500 people. Obviously, if your aim is to attract than many people a night, then there probably aren't very many jazz musicians you can book (none of the headliners for those nights were jazz musicians). The obvious question is, then, do you actually want to be doing a jazz festival? If it's designed so that the biggest-drawing jazz musicians (such as Jarrett) wouldn't be able or want to play there, surely the answer is no. Which is more worrying, to me, than a year-on-year dip in attendance (down by 10,000).

Friday, July 29, 2005

Higher stories; harry stories; higher bills.

The Second Death Star-ish picture on the right is a new building. There used to be an old, decrepit tower there, of a similar size. It was so old and decrepit that I felt anxious whenever I walked past: it looked like it could collapse at any moment.


Debate raged between two English girls in the FNAC about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: why did Dumbledore have to die? the actor who plays Harry in the films is ugly and bad, why did they choose him? is Snape evil or not? Dumbledore was my favourite character, with Hagrid... The conversation unexpectedly veered towards Spandau Ballet, "an old boys band."

This year's summer sales haul. All of it. I think. It seemed unreasonable at the till, looks pretty tame now. What, me, endanger the monthly budget?

Oh, wait, I just found two more CDs (Fishbone Truth and Soul, James Grant My Thrawn Glory, a random 3€ buy: "thrawn?"). There may be a few more downstairs...

Flagestival Day 12: Tricycle - 28/07/2005, Brussels


I don't have much to add to the intial brief note about Tricycle, except that this concert was probably better, judging from my tone in that post (and the flute playing was fine).

The music continues to be a light-hearted romp through jazz-inflected popular/folk musics that recalled Parisian musette, jetted off to Brazil (where Floorizone first started playing accordion), paused on a North African rhythm or hopped over to Eastern Europe. It's happy, G-rated stuff, not quite as good as "The Incredibles" or "Finding Nemo," but better than "Hercules." The age range (from infant to senior citizen, and just about everything in between) of those assembled for the early evening outdoors concert and the ambiance (pétanque pistes had been set up on one side of the square. They were pretty low-quality, though: too many pebbles, not enough sand) attested to the music's spirit. Still, there was a more adult turn on "Kater" (hangover in Dutch), which started small, slow and slightly dissonant, looking for a little melody to ease the pain.

Tricycle shares a space with a much older and more famous trio, l'Ame des poètes (with guitar instead of accordion). I think that it's an important space: easily accessible, melodic improvisation based on songs (in the case of ADP) or rhythms or feels (for Tricycle) that everyone knows (isn't that why jazz musicians played standards in the first place?) and the whole family can gather around and have fun with. Of course, it doesn't hurt that these are (especially in ADP) are amazing musicians.

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.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

C + C Chocolate Factory

posted from flickr

Is it just me, or does Willy Wonka bear a disturbing resemblance to Michael Jackson? Inviting kids into his fantasy land, an eerie, otherworldly appearance, childhood trauma, barely coherent declarations...

Still, the first half of the film is utterly fantastic: the neon-bright caricatures meant to stick in a child's mind (eg. the evil-looking spies smuggling an envelope stamped "Secret Recipe"), the integration of real and CGI characters (Violet Beauregard's final incarnation is stupendous), Johnny Depp's Wonka, Burton's visuals... The Oompah-Loompah songs are a bit disappointing (I found the lyrics difficult to make out), Charlie himself is cloyingly sincere and the second half or so is a bit of a slog.

Trailers: "Herbie: Fully Loaded" got a unanimous thumbs up (on DVD) from the 3-person jury and the "Harry Potter 4" teaser recieved unqualified approbation. tells me "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was dispatched yesterday. I can't wait.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

14th of July

The military parade down the Champs Elysées, Jacques Chirac waving from a jeep, Mirages flying high above, a Frenchman winning the leg of the Tour de France and the bleu-blanc-rouge fluttering against a cloudless sky: things couldn't be better for patriotism to shine forth.

I thought I'd offer something a little more uplifting.

a star, an angel, chalk

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Klinkende Munt Days 3 & 4 - 09,10/07/2005, Brussels

The photostream continues.

The Beursschowburg contains two main spaces. On the second floor, there's the concert hall, a drab shoebox with black drapes hanging from the walls, and much smaller than you'd expect. Around it is folded a structure that twists unpredictably and space-wastingly on itself. Masochism seems to drive the architecture: speckled beige carpeted floors, destined to be trampled, muddied and splotched, inaccessible dead space, walls painstakingly made to look unfinished or deteriorated.

going up

Oddly, it's only on the ground floor that the rest of the structure becomes comprehensible. I say "oddly," because the main access leads directly to the second floor and because to get to the ground floor (which is where the bar and informal stage are), you need to exit the building and go one door up the street. Here, there are open, rational spaces (which is probably why they are so hidden) that maternally encase the tortuous upper floors. A charming place.

Day 3


Ori Kaplan's Balkan Beat Box: "From New York and Tel-Aviv" a Masada for the post-hip hop/panglobal/DJ era. Drummer Tamir Muskat launches pre-recorded beats spanning hip hop, dub, 80s staccato drum machines, pounding rock or rocking dance from his laptop, and sometimes peppers them with vocals (Jewish schoolgirl playground chants? his own vocals processed and looped in real-time? a bit of both?), to great effect. The drums are almost just a prop to kick the whole thing into a furious overdrive at crucial points. The horns blare middle-Eastern melodies and exhort the crowd to scream and jump; the handlebar-mustachioed guitarist laconically distributes Israeli-rock solos; the mohawked singer/Mc/percussionist is insane and keeps the crowd energised, crowd-surfs to celebrate his success, shuffles along the thin platform that extends under the drapes for drama. "This one is for the children of Ramallah and Tel-Aviv," he says. Yet, the beat is more unstoppable machine than tender lullaby. The straight-to-the-point, relentless dancefloor music is interrupted only when Hassan is introduced. He takes a voice 'n' guembri solo, then picks up those hand cymbal things used to create the typical 6/8 pattern, and joins the band for Arabic-flavoured mania. Hassan's hat has a cord with a ball of cloth at the end of it, which swings non-stop as he plays. Awesome. By the end of the concert, calves ache, voice is hoarse. I haven't had this much fun at a concert in a while.

Day 4

Abdelhak Raha DJ Rupture

Nettle (DJ/Rupture and Abdelhak Raha on violin and oud) constitutes a radical departure from the breezy fanfares of previous days. "Violin and DJ" can seem odd, taken in isolation, but isn't, really, in context. When Raha plays the violin upright on his knee, the earlier technological assimilation is made clear, and it's sort of the same kind of thing as having the violin's sound processed by the DJ. When the Arabic community that had come early claps along to familiar melodies, the cultural subtext I'm missing is made concrete and coincidentally reveals Nettle's concept to be not all that different to that of popular crossover artists like Khaled. Or to that of many jazz musicians, who keep techniques created for the dancefloor even as they move away from it, which allows for exciting oscillations between the two poles.

Want a tower?

Nass El Ghiwane is apparently a legendary and politically radical Moroccan group from the '70s and 80's. I'll admit to having been more interested in the crowd's sociology than in the music. The first dozen or so rows were overwhelmingly Moroccan, young and male. They knew all the lyrics and reacted with an almost unsettling fervour, carrying each other on their shoulders and so on. Further back, the crowd became more European, feminine and observational. After about 45 minutes I'd had enough and went for a walk.


Pest sounded good on paper (Ninja Tune, cellist...), but turned out to be merely serviceable medium funk of the post-hip hop/acid jazz variety. The Fender Rhodes played its creamy chords and the guitarist unfurled a few good solos, the DJ/rapper livened things up from time to time and everybody danced a bit, eventually, but compared to the BBB's furore, it was all rather tame.

I dropped by the Kawa Jaipur Brassband's concert in the bar, but it was too hot and crowded. So I went and sat on the steps of the Bourse (Stock Exchange). It's a bit of a hotspot: it connects the touristy Grand'Place to the trendy Halles St-Géry and marks the northern limit of the Moroccan Gare de Midi area. It's an interesting place to eat a beef durum and drink a peach Bacardi Breezer late into a saturday night.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Klinkende Munt Day 2: Prelude and Dances - 07/07/2005, Brussels

I left work ridiculously early, affording me time to go back home and watch coverage of the London bombings: a terrible Western glimpse into daily life in Baghdad. As always, I'm torn between sadness for the victims and cynicism as to the credibility of declarations by Mssrs. Blair and Bush: denouncements of callousness and disdain for human life are hard to stomach, coming from those two.

seen on Antoine Dansaert

The trip back into town was happier than the thoughts above would have you think, even though I was bothered by my ill-advised wolfing down of two bowls of cereal. Going to the Nouveau Marché au Grains takes me further down Antoine Dansaert than usual, well past the Archiduc's art déco stylings and by all the chic, semi-underground designer boutiques. Sure, they're expensive, but the clothes are awesome. The festival's main tent is the bottom edge of a rectangle formed by the World Market's smaller tents. In the middle, there's a basketball court. One can buy food, jewellery and random stuff, or discover Kif Kif radio and their photos of the event.

some of the weird things on display at the World Market

The line-up and mp3s. My Klinkende Munt photo stream.

Marockin' Brass

Puns as band names are always dubious, and Marockin' Brass, who kicked off the festivities, is no exception. At least the name announces the aim clearly: horns over Moroccan percussion. Interestingly, altoist Cesariusz Gadzina, who released a good saxophone-bass-drums trio album early last year, is part of the band, and provided what was easily the most interesting soloing of all the musicians I've seen so far. It's fairly fun music, but too often the rhythm simply percolates somewhat disconnectedly behind the horns (the key word being behind). This is emphasised when the percussionists take off on their own, turning towards each other, increasing in intensity until finally antique brass instruments (like those long, valveless trumpets used in films set in the Middle Ages) let loose barely-articulate blasts.

merry-making during Cor de la Plana

Cor de la Plana is a six-man a cappella (apart from a couple of frame drums) vocal group from Marseille that sings Occitan songs. Their subtle and highly sophisticated use of polyphony creates a multi-layered sound in which who is producing what is, at times, dizzingly unclear. The music seems to tap into something ancient, rewriting popular clichés as it brings together reminiscences of both Gregorian and African chanting and rhythms, along with the old Italian and Arabo-Anadalucian influences that have traversed Occitan culture over the centuries. A farandole set off long lines of people dancing, hands joined, the likes of which hasn't been seen since, well, the Middle Ages. It's amazing the energy you can generate just sitting in a semi-circle, clapping your hands and stomping your feet.

PICT1225The action shifted to the Beursschouwburg's main building, a short walk back up Antoine Dansaert, for La Panika, a Bulgarian orchestra that plays the kind of Balkanic music made popular by Emir Kusturica's films. An incredible, festive explosion of more-faster saxophone/trumpet/clarinet/accordeon solos (a milder form of free-jazz glossolalia?) and wedding melodies over a solid four-man heavy brass section (I've seen three sousaphone players in two days, a decidedly odd occurrence. La Panika's elephant sousaphone was impressive, though) that even included a Wagner tuba and a snare 'n' bass drum team. The relentless tempos were broken up by the occasional (and very successful) dirge, as well as a young dancer in red. The crowd, needless to say, loved it, especially as a few Bulgarians turned up to lead the Belgian masses.

The festival is organised by the Beursschouwburg's idiosyncraticly-dressed director, and I've never seen someone take on so many roles at once: announcing bands, directing traffic, mingling with the audience, filming a concert and even serving beer to the musicians on stage.

the youngest member of La Panika, snazzily dressed - white shoes!

I had to leave a bit before the end of La Panika's concert, therefore missing Brad Shepik's organ trio... Despite another disappointment (after missing Soulive yesterday) I'm still determined to see Ori Kaplan's Balkan Beatbox tonight, despite a prior restaurant engagement earlier in the evening. And saturday's line-up looks promising, too, as well as edgier. And then there's Brosella on sunday. And then the work week starts again.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Klinkende Munt Day 1 - 06/07/2005

The line-up.

Fanfares/marching bands have enjoyed renewed popularity for the last few years, seemingly on both sides of the Atlantic (Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Youngblood Brass Band, "Lose My Breath," "Hollaback Girl") and this year's Klinkende Munt (clinking coins?) festival will feature a lot of them. Except that over here, we don't really go for the brass button and big hat thing. The Orchestre International du Vetex marched into the tent (a judicious choice by the organisers, as it was raining and will be raining throughout the festival), remained at audience-level throughout their concert and immediately set the tone: joyous westernised Balkanic music, with hints of North Africa. A limited palette of fast to medium tempos and short hooky riffs, but irresistably popular and dancey. The brass (two trumpets, fluegelhorn, trombone) and rhythm (snare, bass drum, cymbals) dominated the other instruments (two flutes, two saxophones and that wraparound tuba thing). There was, of course, the drunk guy staggering around that inevitably appears at events of this kind. There's also only ever one of them at a time, so I wonder if there's a kind of Highlander thing going on, with catastrophic consequences if two should meet.

Orchestre International du Vetex

Antibalas came on next, serving up the Fela-derived Afrobeat expected of them: barely-finite songs that are essentially variations on a groove and horn riff, an impenetrably dense rhythmic backdrop (two guitars), harmonically simple, syncopated keyboard solos (with the same sound as Fela), sloganeering and dancing singer/percussionist, etc. I love the occasional gunshot snare hit (kind of like in reggae) that replaces the usual crash cymbal, which can't really be heard in the morass. But overall, it's too cloying and undifferentiated a meal; surprisingly undanceable (as opposed to merely a vague swaying), too.

I wanted to see Soulive, but having had only a few hours sleep the night before and facing a string of short nights (I definitely want to see Brad Shepik (with Tom Rainey!), tonight, and that starts at midnight), IVN and I headed home towards the end of Antibalas's set.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Fanning myself on the dancefloor because hot chicks don't sweat

posted from flickr

...and other friday night (and saturday and sunday) fever revelations.

- It really is a small world after all.

- Arno is chanson crunque. L'il Jon, 30 years older and a lot more (Belgian) beer, but the same bellow.

- The combination of excessive eating, below-average wine and a too-early move to (and on?) the dancefloor leads to stomachache but also to strange visions of a symphony orchestra with a big beat (and that doesn't sound kitsch).

- It's one thing when musicians make political statements from the stage, quite another when presenters tack their own random agenda onto a performance. Celebrations for Flanders's national day (11th july) have begun, which is apparently an excuse to play the "Vlaamse Leeuw" (Flemish Lion) and speechify. I turned my back to the stage in silent protest during the song (I would have done the same had it been "La Marseillaise"). The speech could just have been ye olde "Flanders First!" blabber (let each community (Wallonia & Flanders) find its own solutions to its own problems), had it not been directly challenged by singer Stef Bos's Dutchness and his wide-ranging (South Africa, Spain, America, North Africa...) influences and inspirations.

- Venus, baby!

- Playing songs live exactly like you recorded them is pretty boring.

- If you're going to put hundreds of dancing people into a room, make sure there's some kind of ventilation system in place.

- What happened to lounging around and doing nothing on week-ends? I almost miss it.