Sunday, October 30, 2005

Frédéric Alice Orpheus

A strong, modern soulful voice, coming from the chest but climbing into the throat and wobbling into falsetto, an accomplished student of music (New England Conservatory) and multi-instrumentalist (piano, violin, guitar...), an interest in jazz and contemporary music. It's good stuff, check out the mp3s: there's no album yet, so there's no commercial afterthought. "When I Came Down To Earth," voice/guitar/viola, reminds me of the best of Chocolate Genius. With the Blue Medusa Trio, FAO mixes a live, acoustic jazz aesthetic with soul accessibility. the website's in french, but the lyrics are in english

AKA Moon - 29/10/2005, Brussels

I hadn't seen AKA Moon in a few years. The small, familiar Sounds stage is perhaps the best place in town to catch them. The music seemed to go back through its own history: starting with music that seemed more recent, ending with the usual, joyful medley of old hits, via Michel Hatzigeorgiou's classic real-time self-sampling bass solo. The contrast showed how Fabrizio Cassol had matured as a composer: from sequences of percussive, hooky riffs to much longer structures. It's interesting to hear fairly advanced composition arrived at through the prism of jazz/funk/rock, improvisation, complex rhythmic/metric forms and a band sound, rather than through a more abstract harmonic view. And you can hear all that while, quite simply, rocking out to one of the greatest reasons to be proud to be Belgian (um, I'm not Belgian).

As luck would have it, we sat at the same table as the guy who founded the Kaai (as well as an actress/musician with beautiful brown eyes), the now-mythical venue which closed in 1995 after having seen the birth of AKA Moon and brought together a whole generation of musicians. Bo Van Der Werf had told me about playing there, blowing a solo, then stepping off stage to pour someone a beer. Etienne recounted a particular highlight: Lenny Kravitz taking a taxi from Amsterdam to Brussels to arrive at the Kaai after 1AM and proceed to jam 'til 7.

The Django d'Or ceremony was held last night: congratulations, Pascal! (even though I was sure Jef would win).

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).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

impressionable youth

Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (again) on the train in the morning on an empty stomach, a fat middle-aged couple in black track suits from Charleroi or thereabouts playing cards - well, not middle-aged because their skin is too smooth and baby-pink for that - to my right, a flock of birds to my left across the aisle that turns out to be a ringtone, is all very strange.

Last night, lying in bed in the dark, it struck me that I needed an XML configuration file; this morning as I went through the slow morning rituals the solution to the months-long question of what to paint my computer/music/book room was revealed: a Mondrian wall. Admittedly, I'd watched a show on the contemporary art market the evening before. If you can't afford 'em ($8 million), make 'em. But which wall? Behind the computer or on the one with the chimney facing the door, for a cool 3-D effect? Will this project go the way of the long-planned CD shelf?

Do you see the pattern?

Friday, October 21, 2005

gentle shifts south

It's happened again. Or rather, what had happened has been reversed. It was inevitable, really. Monumental, but uncommented upon, or, if commented upon, only the symptoms were mentioned, not the cause.

A few weeks ago - the exact date is difficult to determine - Brussels shifted several hundred kilometers south. The massive displacement was instantaneous and imperceptible to all sentient creatures, yet its effects were plain. Solid blue skies belied the city's (unjust) reputation, the people basked and were happy, flowers bloomed, thinking it was spring.

It's raining today: the city has returned to its original latitude, the imbalance has been righted. It was inevitable, really.

* title provided by Jason Moran

Thursday, October 20, 2005

pretty totty; what's up, dog?

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: popped my W & G cherry last night, it splattered in glorious claymation style. Funny, a bit lightweight plot-wise but very smart and full of delicious details/winks/nudges/references and, of course, superbly executed.


There was an animated short before the main feature, about the penguins from Madagascar. I haven't seen Madagascar, must rent it some day. The short Pixar did for The Incredibles was more awesomely unexpected/good/psychedelic, but the penguin christmas movie was good. Speaking of The Incredibles, Michael Giacchino's music for the Alias season premiere struck me as particularly good. Lots of Lost-ian sparse suspenseful plucks 'n' things, of course, but also a very welome touch of the jazzy big band that worked so well for The Incredibles. Of course, it didn't hurt that Alias seems to have plunged headlong back into Season 3 long-plot complexity, rather than Season 4 one-shot portraiture.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

crowd gathers on be.jazz scene

My good friend (whom I haven't seen in far too long!) started a blog this month, Jazzques. It's about time, as he'll be able to give you day-to-day be.jazz tidbits far better than I have been able to. His succint concert and CD reviews are full of a Jacques adoration of and sense of wonder for music. Plus, he's far more inclined to staying up well into the early hours, drinking with the musicians, than I am, despite my being a decade-plus younger. His drinking stories are legendary! Of course, it's all in French, but it's never too late to learn.

Happy birthday (tomorrow), my friend!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

new vocation

Yesterday I decided that when I grow up, I want to be a taïkonaut, which has a better ring to it than yuhangyuan.

Monsieur Dubois ft. Joseph Bowie - 13/10/2005, Brussels

Monsieur Dubois is a Dutch sextet that plays a passable (largely) acoustic version of 90s acid jazz: acoustic double bass vamps, bossa/samba/funk/d'n'b grooves smartly stitched together by the combination of a drummer and a well-equipped percussionist (congas, bongos, timbales, small hi-hat, triangle, sundry), unremarkable soloists (keyboard, trumpet, saxophone) and melody lines drawing on hard bop.

I'd never heard trombonist Joseph Bowie and only vaguely heard of his band Defunkt, but I was pretty disappointed, after the promo and onstage hype surrounding his participation. While his speech-like blurts and occasional high-pitched exclamations made his relationship to Lester quite clear, his playing was rather limited and rarely fitted the context. The music really called for some good, greasy, Fred Wesley-type playing to really energise it, but that didn't happen.

A mediocre concert, then, but enlivened by my experimental hat-wearing. I've always found the hat-wearing men in old films cool, Jason Moran has made it his trademark, lots of rappers/singers have one on in their videos and photo shoots, so I've been thinking about getting one myself for a long time now: it's both fashionable and distinctive on the street. I bought a cheap one on saturday - black, short brim that folds up at the back - to see if I could put it on without feeling too embarassed and last night was the first time I wore it to town. Combined with my brown leather jacket and orange stripy shirt, the outfit might have been too poseur-y, but it was great fun anyway. We're going to Paris tomorrow, I'll see what the French make of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Polar Bear - 04/10/2005, Brussels

I went to the Ancienne Belgique's ABClub for the first time. Had I known earlier how nice a space it was, I'd have gone there sooner and often: small, but uncluttered (no chairs), roomy and elegant (wood floors and wall panels, semi-circle bar at the back). A rare sighting: someone else taking notes. He had a proper notebook, I had an old, folded-up bank receipt and a pen that happened to be in my jacket pocket.

Polar Bear's "Held on the Tips of Fingers" isn't a radical break with "Dim Lit" (except, perhaps, commercially, as they went from winning BBC Jazz Awards to being shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize), but does expand the band's palette, notably through the addition of Leafcutter John on laptop. On tour, the latter is billed as "featured" and performed on about half the songs. At times he used a PlayStation-type joypad to trigger sounds: in duet with drummer/leader Sebastian Rocheford, zoink!s, crashes and screeches that flew from left to right and sounded like a THX demo gone mad, or atmosphere-solidifying metallic drones behind the full band. On the CD, his contributions tend to be chiseled, here they were often wild. While that made for some satisfying wall-of-noise or frantic electronic ping-ponging moments, a little carefully-crafted clickety-click would have been welcome. In quieter moments, Leafcutter John used a microphone to sample a triangle, a bit of crinkly plastic or Tom Herbert's bass playing.

The chiseled/wild distinction also holds for the core Polar Bear unit: the CDs don't give much indication of how aggressive the band can be on stage. Polar Bear is, for me, a concious or unconcious continuation of the late 60s/early 70s guys who had grown up on hard bop, matured with free jazz and were trying to mix the two over a loose version of contemporary funk/soul grooves. The improvising of the two saxophonists make this connection clear as they tread between refined free jazz hollers and guttural bop exclamations. The other two times I've seen them, Ingrid Laubrock subbed in for Mark Lockheart, but not last night. Overall, the music was perhaps a bit tighter for it.

The quartet + 1 wound liberally through its repertoire: new songs ("I wrote this one when I woke up," Rocheford explained, without specifying whether he meant that very morning), old songs that still haven't been recorded and, of course, album tracks, the composer's sensibilities were made quite clear. Rocheford's harmonies, simple compared to those of bop's high modernists, sometimes give off a folksy feel and allow the soloists to take off in any direction. On one tune in the second set, Pete Wareham took the bass and drums into heavy, Acoustic Ladyland-ish territory, but during Lockheart's solo, he and Herbert often hinted at calypso. The bandleader's playing makes plain the lessons drummers have learnt from hip-hop/electronica producers: orchestration (how/when each kit element or sound source participates in the beat) is as crucial to the beat's identity as the rhythm itself. The melodies often call for intertwining saxophone lines: one providing a background to the other's melody here, a pleasing clash between ascending and descending motifs there. In contrast to the barn-storming solos, the themes are often melancholy, tender or worrying. That's not always the case: before the two encores that ended the concert, Polar Bear played "The King of Aberdeen," which has a fast 'n' furious two-beat (kitted out with Herbert's Mingusian shouts), one of the band's characteristic sounds.

Rocheford seems less stage-shy than he used to be, presenting a guileless persona who seems to say whatever pops into his head. Presenting a song called "Fluffy" that used to be called "I Want You," he said, almost putting the microphone down between each sentence, "It [the title] sounds like I want a cat. But I prefer dogs. I do like big cats, though. Especially leopards."

ain't sayin' nuthin'

In an effort for be.jazz not to become a "what I did today" blog, much has not been written about. However, I have thought about writing a lot of things. As a result, the line between what I've written and what I've thought is getting blurry (a Homer Simpson-ish "Did I think that or blog it?").

so, I haven't talked about last weekend's trip to London (for a friend's wedding) and sunday's trip to Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner. I'd never been, it's incredible that such a place should exist and live up to any description one could make of it. Last night my mother told me that she had visited it when she was exactly my age (I was nine months old at the time and in Paris).

I haven't talked about the 4 restaurants in the last week (3 + 1 restaurant-equivalent at the wedding): Italian (pizza) next to the EU Parlement, Turkish (no, not a kebab or durum) in London, Senegalese in Brussel's St-Gilles neighbourhood (La Cuisine de Suzanne, highly recommended). Surprisingly, my waistline (which has slimmed considerably in the last few months, something else I haven't mentioned) hasn't suffered at all from this abundance of culinary delights. The windows of bakeries (Belgian or Moroccan) and chocolatiers are calling out to me increasingly loudly, though.

I haven't talked about seeing the Dardenne brothers' L'Enfant, but will soon.

I haven't talked about Polar Bear's concert on tuesday, but will soon. Discussion of Acoustic Ladyland's Last Chance Disco has been stuck in Drafts for a while now and should also surface soon.

Something I will talk about: tomorrow there's a general strike. Since it will make it practically impossible for me to get to work (for lack of trains), I'll probably be on strike (for shortage of paid holidays) for the first time ever! A three day weekend will be nice, even if I have to pay for it myself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

be.sightings: yet another sure-to-be-short-lived category

...Bassist Sal La Rocca spotted on rue du Midi, around noon. He was, of course, wearing his distinctive visorless cap...