Thursday, September 22, 2005

doubleheader, pt. 2

As the sequence of posts does not make clear, after going to see Cinderella Man in the afternoon, I went to see Broken Flowers at night, last Sunday. Both screenings were surprisingly sparsely attended, considering they only cost 3 euros.

The film's theme song sounded like (crucially) piano-less late-60s Andrew Hill, to me. Which was good. Winston's "Ethiopian" accent was way, way off, though. On to more important matters.

The only other Jarmusch I've seen is Ghost Dog. Some of the same elements pop up: the heavy-handed metaphors, TV bringing messages, for example. BF is, however, far more formal and pared-down. The repetition-and-variation (with intro (the set-up) and coda (another variation, really)) give the film a structure somewhere between those of Rashomon and a song. The spareness leaves space for secrets, the unknown, unresolved doubts and hidden histories. The line between what can and cannot be said, and the dangers on both sides of that line, as the final old-girlfriend visit makes clear, is the one constantly being negotiated. Excellent.

man ipulation

The Man With the Movie Camera
Tuur Floorizone - acc
Laurent Blondiau - tp
Michel Massot - tba, tb

The third of Cafe Central's silent movie + live music events I've been to (the others were The General and Metropolis), but the first involving more than one musician. With one musician, the music was largely made up on the spot, but this time they had sheet music and a number of well-defined songs/themes, probably written by Tuur, as their rhythms and melodies recalled those of Tricycle.

I probably won't go to any more of these nights: the conditions are too uncomfortable (wooden chairs, flat seating, background chatter). Maybe I'm overreacting to the film. I found it really hard going. Despite the embedded mini-stories, the revealing juxtapositions and disorienting superimpositions, the intentional lack of anything to focus on fatigued me. It's a bit like cycling through TV channels, endlessly: there's repetition, progression and fortuitous encounters, but an unsatisfying lack of focus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Listen Trio - 20/09/2005, Brussels

Bendik Giske - ts, ss
Daniel herskedal - tba
Espen Berg - p

A noon concert, a concentrated 45-minute dose of music injected into the ordinary work-day, works wonders. Others take an extra cup of coffee. Or three.

The three young Norwegians won last year's Jazz Hoeilaart Competition and are in the closing stages of the resulting tour.

The trio immediately confirmed its origins: herskedal's "Norwegian Folk Tune," simple and melancholy. Berg displayed the light classical, lightly orchestral/contrapuntal, style that he would stick to, fruitfully, throughout the concert. On Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" Giske stuck to tenor, but dipped liberally into the pre-war saxophonic exuberance bag. When he softly slap-tongued a beat behind Berg's trademark damp-one-string-and-play-around-it classical-funkisms, the old tune acquired an unexpected, yet unforced, air of modernity. They returned to that exuberance at the end of the concert, but it sprang from a different source: the Balkan brass band. In a few minutes they went from driving stomp to spacious dirge and quick, blurry soprano lines to raw-throated bellows.

The group has an immediately attractive attitude. "Dr. Waadelands Vals," dedicated to a conservatory professor who wrote a PhD. detailling a mathematical formulation of swing drumming, loaded the first beat with exagerated low-register drama, before snapping to attention with staccato quarter-notes on the last two beats. At one time they threatened to slip into a too-easy ballad of North European chamber jazz modernism, with too-exacting symmetry and a feel of a perpetual sigh of faux-despair, but Berg's solo pulled them out of that mood. Here and there, surprises slipped in: a line that ascended for a bar longer than expected, for example. Overall, it remained clever but light, with an interesting lack of interest for abstraction.

Lots of mp3s are available on Listen Trio's website.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


An Angela Merkel quote excerpted from Alex Ross:

For example, I regard Lufthansa’s innovation of playing disembarkation music as no improvement on my quality of life.

Indeed. I had the same reaction to the US Open's introduction of music during changeovers. Is that really what the sport needed? And why switch songs a minute or so in? Were they streaming it from Amazon?

doubleheader, pt. 1

Cinderella Man: It's a boxing movie. It has all the heartstring-tugging clichés. Russell Crowe is as ugly as ever. His character is as flawlessly noble as ever. Renée Zellwegger is, well, herself, albeit with a vaguely American-Irish accent. There's not much to say about a movie like this. I don't know if it bears more than a passing relationship to reality. I didn't know whether or not he'd win a single fight. I liked it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

new new

Jazz in Belgium has finally unveiled a much-needed, totally modernised website. It's now a lot more functional and, I'm sure, easier to maintain. It's about time, too: it was back in 2002 or 2003 that I contacted its webmaster, Ilan Oz and suggested that I re-do the site. For reasons outside of my control, and despite Ilan's enthusiasm, that attempt got stuck. It's only when Victor Zamouline, of the defunct Jazz Valley, came onboard last year that things really got moving again. He probably navigated the waters far more expertly than I ever could. Congratulations to all and check out the site!

a saturday

Several notable landmarks can be seen as you cross Brussels south to north by train. There's the massive and excellent mural of Geluck's Le Chat, one of many comic strip characters scattered about the city. Then there's the dread Palais de Justice, which literally sits above the working-class Marolles neighbourhood, threatening crushing it with its gross, gray weight. During the Foire de Midi, the palace could be seen through the merry white bars of a ferris wheel. Past Bruxelles-Nord/Brussel-Noord, below the right-hand side of the train, there's a red-light street and its women behind windows. I used to take this northern-bound train with some frequency, but, it seems, almost never in the 2.5 years I've had a car. I feel like I should visit the street. It's less a matter of IVN being in Thailand than a mixture of Sin City and Philip K. Dick. Euro-travellers sit next to me on the train. I have no idea what language they're speaking, but their travel guide is in Spanish. I listen in, intently, and as we are close to my destination, I ask the guy opposite, in English, what language they're speaking. "Basque." Cool. He then launches into the we're-travelling-around-Europe speech, even though I had made a point of not asking him about it. He limps on and I vaguely feign interest. I have to get off now, anyway.

I arrive in Antwerp and step off the train. The station is one of the most beautiful I know. The part with the platforms resembles Paris's just-reopened Grand Palais, with its semi-cylindrical early 20th century (the station is 100 years old this year) metal-and-glass structure. The main hall has incredibly high domed ceilings. The columns are huge yet graceful. They're setting up a cat-walk, surrounded by folding chairs. Antwerp is a secondary fashion centre. The whole place could almost be a church. I exit the station. On my right, under the entrance to the Zoo, a man is chatting with a giant raccoon.

I set out looking for Pardaf, a second-hand clothes store. I found out about it a week ago exactly and have nothing else to do, so why not go clothes-shopping. The map on their website is is somewhat lacking in clarity, so I go up the wrong street and end up in the diamond area. Antwerp is a major diamond centre. Here, Gemmopolis Building isn't an empty metaphor. I wander down two empty and annoyingly long streets. I pass a synagogue inside which faithful are performing a ceremony of some sort. Antwerp is also a major Jewish centre. 40 minutes have passed. I try my luck down another street, closer to the Zoo. I ask two police officers if they know the street I'm looking for. "I don't know the streets here." I carry on 20 metres and I've found it. Two well-dressed twenty-somethings stand outside the store. I hesitate, and walk in.

The women's section is an awe-inspiring multi-storey extravaganza. How to look great at half the price. The men's section is, obviously, tucked at the back, making it easier to hide its comparatively meagre offering. I'm vaguely annoyed, but we're all used to this, by now. A pink Hugo Boss dress shirt is the first item to pique my interest. It's nice, but too faded: the colour has all but disappeared in a few crucial places. I try on this and that, including a 100 euro Boss balck two-piece suit. The jacket is okay, the pants are way too big, something else I'm used to and, in this case, actually grateful for. I end up buying a complete outfit: gray Guess? jeans with electric blue stitches (I didn't have any in that colour), a multi-coloured stripy Bellarose shirt and an awesome brown Zara leather jacket. 88 euros altogether. Not exactly cheap, but reasonable.

I haven't eaten yet, so I mull over my choices as I walk back to the station. A salad at Quick? McFlurrys are hard to resist; I saw a poster for a new fruit topping. I enter a small Delhaize supermarket. Their selection of sandwiches is far from screaming "Eat me, I taste good!" I decide to eat at home.

In the train station, the models are rehearsing for the show. I've never seen a real-life fashion show before and I've certainly never seen a rehearsal for one. The music blares. I watch for 20 minutes. 3 of the 4 models I see on the runway are bad, though sometimes interestingly-dressed. I don't know if strutting down the cat-walk is difficult, but there is a certain art to it, and the possibility to express something of your character, or of your act. One girl, wearing a semi-transparent, wedding-style dress, walks, impressively, on her toes, her sock-wearing heels a few centimetres off the ground. I can't make out if this is to make her more floating-fairy-like or to simulate the effect of the shoes she'll be wearing for the real thing. A young girl is wearing a cross between mermaid scales and a low-cut Beyoncé lamé thing. With suede protect-me-from-the-snow-of-this-Ikea-catalogue boots. She's terrible, I tire and my train is in 5 minutes.

During the ride back, I wonder if I should go to the street or not. I'm not in a hurry and I've never been there before. Still, it's strange. The beautiful serendipity of the Sin City, K. Dick and models sequence makes it irresistable.

I decide to leave my stuff in a locker at the station. I don't know the street and don't want my bags to attract attention or tempt pick-pockets. I also want to move easily. I put my clothes bag, my shoulder bag, my phone, my keys and my wallet in the locker. I doubt temptation will come, but if does, I've spared myself the struggle.

I step outside the station and the first thing to hit me is the delicious smell of grilled meat. Coincidentally, it's shopkeepers' day in the Rue de Brabant: they've all put their wares outside and the street is full of people. I decide to go down this street and come back up the other one. Give myself some time to settle in. Incense and meat odours alternate. The bazaar offers everything at once. Music blares.

A few blocks down, I turn to the left. I'm there. I had imagined a solitary, writerly experience. Had that actually been the case, maybe the temptation would have been stronger. By far the most attractive women is the very first I see: false blonde, black lingerie, huge breasts, working her space and blowing kisses. The others are not as much fun, standing or sitting idly. Quickly, it's the practical details that are amusing. A small dog accompanies one woman and I can't help but wonder if it's included in the price. Three girls sit, loudly talking to each other in what sounds like an East European language. At the end of the street, a woman sits, fully-dressed, reading the newspaper, seemingly disinterested about what's going on outside. I wonder if she aims for an older demographic.

A group of three guys is walking at the same pace as me. They stop often to negotiate prices. The girls flash signals at them, 3 fingers. I don't know if that means 30 or 300 euros, 3 hours, the number of participants or the desired level of service. It's this communal aspect I understand least. Going sex-shopping with your buddies? Stepping outside of the brothel, giving the prostitute a kiss on the cheek and striding off, declaring to the world that you've just paid for sex? Perhaps most troubling, is that after looking into a window, it's difficult to look at a pretty girl on the street without feeling that I've dirtied her, or that I've dirtied myself. It's difficult to go from appraisal to normal ogling.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

1948. 1972. 2000

I've been doing much more movie-watching than music-listening, of late.

Last night: Hitchcock's The Parradine Case. A film of two halves: the first is lively, full of delightful dialogue ("I don't like being interrupted in the middle of an insult"); the second is somewhat stiffly stuck in the witness box's Q & A format. Still, the ensemble performance is more satisfying, to me, than in, say, Strangers on a Train, in which Farley Granger's character is in a loose-limbed comedy club while the others are at an old stiff-backed theater.

A few wonderful shots: the camera circles Mrs. Paradine's head as Latour enters the court, echoing an early shot in which the camera follows an exiting Sir Simon, as Mrs. Paradine recedes. A nice musical transition: the main theme is played symphonically and stridently over the opening credits, then reprised more delicately by Mrs. Paradine at the piano.

As is often the case, I was puzzled by the Horfields' relationship and their final scene, especially. Are they holding up an aged mirror to the Keanes? Something more?

And I'm totally infatuated with Gregory Peck. My kind of man. Or maybe IVN's kind of man, but after so long, her tastes have shaped mine. I don't know if the effect has gone both ways: I'll have to ask her about her taste in women.

Saturday: Peckinpah's Junior Bonner. IMDB comments and divergent 1972 reports (I much prefer the latter) show that there's no consensus around this one.

There's Junior, out of time, out of space (the cowboys seem decidedly as hemmed in as the beasts they attempt to ride or the horses they drag around behind their cars) and out of cause; there's Ace, a relic who refuses to bow to the new reality. Fairly straight-forward characters. But I found Curley, as a character, the most complex and interesting of the Bonner men. He represents capitalism and its tactics: he is the source of far more physical and moral violence than any of the cowboys (the destruction of his father's ranch, the control exerted over his mother); he knows that it's all about branding, and that it's easier to sell an image when the content has been razed and re-made. Buck Roan's rodeo business is small potatoes next to Curley's mobile homes. For all that, he's also a family man who hasn't missed too many meals and retains just enough cowboy in him to punch his brother, then have a beer with him. I was reminded somewhat of Gladiator's Emperor Commodus, the only character of interest - looking for love in all the wrong places - amongst the boringly honourable or devious masses.

The characterisation of Curley's wife is amusingly dated. While the intended effect of her asking Elvira Bonner, her mother-in-law, not to smoke around the baby is still conveyed, Ruth's request/command is one most of us, I imagine, would make, nowadays.

Sunday: Madonna and Rupert Everett in The Next Best Thing. Not my choice (but not unenjoyable, either, as Everett entertains), but it does end on an interesting and somewhat unusual note of uneasy optimism, even though nearly everything has been shattered. Mainly, it confirmed why I don't have nearly enough male gay friends: they all hang out with other gay guys or straight girls. This is problematic: I recently went to my first party dominated by gay guys, and this lack was made achingly clear by the great time I had. Maybe I should start going to gay bars. Alone, of course. I nearly forgot: Michael Vartan, baby! Will we find out who he "really" is? Will Season 5 extend the all-too-rare interesting bits of Season 4 or continue the string of disconnected and uninteresting missions (the one in Germany with the miniature helicopter is easily my "Worst. Episode. Ever.").

Saturday, September 03, 2005

You are now leaving Basin City

Public transported (gas prices you see, and also for some reason I don't like that drive) up to the Heysel Kinepolis to see Sin City, finally. I say "finally" because it's been out for such a long time and have liked the comic books (sorry, graphic novels) for years. I can just make out the cover of "Family Values" in an open cardboard box in the corner of the room.

The Kinepolis is right next to the Atomium. The Atomium is, without a doubt, this city's greatest landmark. It's one of those things that sounds cheesy on paper ("an giant representation of an iron molecule?") but is awesome in reality. I was dumbstruck the first time I saw it, as delusions of cheesiness dissipated, and am duly impressed whenever I see it, be it from far away on the Ring or close up. The monument is being renovated. A lot of the balls (sorry, atoms) are finished and look great. Shiny, stripey silver like brand-new pétanque boules. For a temporary construction from 1958, it's doing pretty well for itself.

Sin City is probably the most (successfully) faithful comic book adaptation I've ever seen. Even the rainfall recalls Miller's white streaks breaking up chunks of black. The way the story arcs are grouped, echoing each other but remaining independent, timelines crossing in the Old Town bar, perfectly captures the experience of reading the trade paperbacks or one-shots as they come out.

The prostitutes, as hyper-women struggling to balance independence, love and the explosive nature of their relationship with the men who simultaneously empower and undermine them, appear as a kind of flip-side to Kurosawa's samurai wife. If real-world prostitutes looked like Frank Miller's, I'd understand their business's impermeability to business cycles. Real prostitutes (well, the ones I've crossed, anyway) looking as they do, I don't.

And Alexis Bledel. I'd always wondered if the way she speaks on Gilmore Girls is Rory or Alexis. Apparently it's Alexis. She even briefly breaks out into some GG double-time. It's enough to make you think that, when she bucks orders and phones her Mom, it's Lorelai on the other end.

I need to dig out my Sin City's and thumb through them one more time.

At 22.00 I walked out of the multiplex, waited a few minutes for the subway, got to Gare Centrale with a few minutes to spare before the train arrived. Perfect timing. It's a good thing I didn't drive, it could have been a dangerous ride back. I've always been uncomfortable with the liberal/free speech claim that violent entertainment cannot be blamed for violent behaviour. Of course, the link is not so simple, but the necessity of that radical position seems to me to occult the powerful effect that art does have on the psyche. If it didn't, there would be no point to it. Recent studies claim that the effects of violent entertainment on children are short-term. I still believe that subtle long-term shifts occur (again, not necessarily in a violent in-violent out way). And why only consider violence? Imagine the millions of women whose lives have been made tolerably miserable by fairy tales and romantic comedies.

Walking home after seeing The Matrix, I casually jay-walked in front of an oncoming car. It took me a moment to realise that I could not, in fact, stop it by raising my hand. Last night, walking to and sitting in the subway and train, I took a hard-boiled look at everything. It's only a bit after I got home, an hour later, that I had sunk back into reality. Or, should I say, the movie had seeped back out of my pores.

Friday, September 02, 2005

setting out

Bill Shoemaker's new Point of Departure jazz webzine is worthy of your interest.

japanese, japanese

Went to see Rashomon and The Taste of Tea recently.

Rashomon. A cinematic landmark? If you say so. I liked it a lot, even though it was late and I sometimes had trouble keeping my eyes in focus. Beyond whatever technical wizardry Kurosawa pulled out of his hat, the philosophical questions he posed remain. Yes, there's the impossibility of objective truth, of a narrative detached from subjective motivations. More than that, it seems to me that Kurosawa was mainly asking about the possibility of good in a shades-of-gray world. Clearly, at the end, as the monk chooses to restore his faith in humanity, even though a baby has been abandoned, even though the person they told their story to has stolen the bundle left with the baby, even though the redeemer is also (presumably) a thief and guilty of perjury. The theme is present throughout the various accounts of the bandit/samurai/wife encounter.

The bandit makes the woman a consenting sexual partner and the samurai's death the issue of an honourable duel. The samurai makes his own death an honourable hara-kiri (by the way, did 1950s Japan really consider a medium giving evidence to a court anything but laughable? I don't know. Kurosawa films it seriously, but still...). The wife is animated by a really interesting mix of fear, guilt, courage and cunning as she tries to escape an impossible situation. I don't know if it was Kurosawa's intention to portray the subordinate place of woman generally (in 1950 certainly, and far too often today), but he does so quite clearly: she's been raped, yet must bear her husband's scorn, the bandit's inevitable disaffection (if there was any affection to begin with) and (implicit in her husband's reaction) excommunication from respectable society. The situation has changed little enough for Kurosawa's dramatisation to still be painfully contemporary.

It should also be noted that Kurosawa tricks us. We do not hear each participant's version and we are not placed in the judge's seat. Rather, we hear the wood-chopper and the monk tell us what they heard, and by now we should know how unreliable that is.

The Taste of Tea. The great thing about this film is that (almost) everything in it is absolutely normal. The nebula of plots out of which fragile storylines are pieced together is exactly what ordinary life is like. Which makes that aspect of this high-art film oddly, enchantingly artless. Even the most outlandish scenes (the instant-classic photo shoot in the train, for example) are just weird things that happen to all of us, that are tangential to our lives. The ghost stories and family secrets, the time spent sitting together in silence on the porch, basking in the setting sun, the elation of chaste yearning, the exertion of running and cycling, the inevitability of missed plot-lines (Hajime blithely cycling past the trap set by school-mates): that's life. Which makes the elements that would be surreal/absurd part of the fabric of our lives: didn't you have an equivalent to Giant Sachiko? Just about my only criticism is that it's a bit long and makes obvious too many opportunities to end, though the one it seizes is obviously the right one: 143 minutes, so make room in your calendar.

If a ghost can surface, comically but to no great astonishment, in a 2004 film, than maybe in 1950 the medieval medium was taken seriously. Drawing connections between the two films simply because they're both Japanese and I happened to see them a few days apart is precisely what both films, each in their own way, say I should do.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Pick up tomorrow's De Morgen: in it you'll find a coupon for a free Jazztublieft! Een oor op jazz in Vlaanderen compiation CD. 14 tracks, 8 of which are taken from previously released albums (Kris and Bart Defoort, Jef Neve, Brussels Jazz Orchestra, etc.). Excitingly, that leaves 6 previously unreleased tracks, including some from groups/players that don't even have official releases: Robin Verheyen Quartet, Jozef Dumoulin, Bart Maris - Les Poubelles are all in the latter category, Maak's Spirit, Flat Earth Society and Octurn round out the program. I've had the CD for a few days, but haven't listened to it much yet. I can say, just from reading the track listing, that it spans styles (modern mainstream/avant-garde), means of production (acoustic/electric, small band/medium band/big band) and generations.

De Werf is organising a 3-day event featuring all fourteen bands, mainly, it seems, as a media "big bang" promo event. I was invited as part of the media (!), and it could be cool, but I really can't make three trips to Bruges in one week-end, especially not at current gas prices. And there's the Brussels Beer Weekend as well...

let's go out to the ball game

The last paragraph of Alex Ross's Mostly Mozart review sounded like an inverted echo of something I exclaimed at Middelheim: conditions at jazz concerts are often - way too often - terrible.

"Change the perspective and the music changes, too," says Ross of a Row A experience. I couldn't agree more. It's the basic reason we still go to concerts, in the age of recording: to be up close, to see the sweat on the brow, to hear un- or less-mediated sound. It's firmly embedded in the conciousness of the jazz fan that live music is the real thing and that recordings are that'll-have-to-do ersatzes. And yet, time and time again the concert experience fails to live up to the ideal.

Clubs are too smokey, too loud, too disinterested (see Bill Zavatsky's screed against the audience assembled at the Village Vanguard to, purportedly, listen to Bill Evans in vol. 13 issue #3 of Dave Liebman's newsletter), too loud (the I'm-deaf-so-I'll-make-you-deaf-too soundman syndrome), too lax time-wise.

Halls are too cold, too big, too stuffy, too expensive.

Festivals are too big, too overstuffed, too boring, the acoustics too poor, too under-staffed, too expensive, too far, too frequent, too overlapping.

And, in passing, as I had imagined, the music on swod's CD, Gehen, is definitely better enjoyed in the living room than in the park.

That said, places to go:

The Sounds: best club experience in Brussels, probably.
CC Luchtbal: a hall that, in addition to hosting a bizarre mix of punk, metal and adventurous free jazz, is priced more than reasonably (thank you, government subsidies!) and manages to be roomy while retaining some intimacy.
Hnita-Hoeve: halfway between a hall and a club, the rigid movie theater-style seating makes it a bit cramped, but the most familial atmosphere anywhere.
K.fée: great decor, don't get stuck in the bar area if you came for the music, though.
De Werf: small, but thanks to the steep amphitheater-style seating, there are a lot of seats, all having a good view. The sound is generally good and you can buy De Werf CDs in the lobby. I'd go there a lot more often if it wasn't so far away.
Flagey Studio 1: holds about 200 and has gained in warmth over the years. Sit in the very front row and put your ear in the bell of the horn.

Places to think twice about:
PP Café: great programming, questionable comfort, dubious crowd.
Studio Athanor: those already deaf have nothing to fear, otherwise very enjoyable.
Music Village: most expensive club, poor lines of sight, often dead crowd. The paid membership thing.
Flagey Studio 4: holds millions and has gained nothing over the years. The balcony seats aren't worth it (and are must-avoids if you're scared of heights) and the floor seats are anonymous. The side-stage seats can be fun, though.
De Hopper: the free nights are often very noisy, the performance space is cramped, the acoustics surprisingly variable for such a small room. Still, it's De Hopper.