Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nicolas Kummert Quartet - 29/09/2006@Sounds, Brussels

Nicolas Kummert - ts
Aleksi Tuomarila - p
Anja Naucler - cello
Lionel Beuvens - d

At this concert in particular, for some reason, I really felt a generation (mine, from mid-20s to early 30s) coming together. Partly because Nicolas and Aleksi (who's Finnish, but studied and has spent a lot of time in Belgium) have both moved to Paris, along with others, like Jozef Dumoulin, who are starting to break into that scene. I guess there's always been that movement (René Thomas in the '50s, David Linx and Eric Legnini in the '90s), but it kind of feels like everyone's leaving (growing up?), at the moment.

I don't think the move has fundamentally changed Nicolas's playing, but it has probably sped up his development. His playing has always had a real gentleness to it, but over the last couple years his sound has become really big, in all registers and dynamics and, when necessary, deliciously creamy. Though unamplified, he effortlessly filled the room and at times even threatened to smother all but the drums.

Nicolas and Aleksi have been playing together since their conservatory days and have built up a common repertory; Aleksi's "Sacrament" and "No ID" and Nicolas's "Two Elephants Are Always Right," all from Aleksi's quartet CDs (a new one is coming out soon), were played. To my surprise, and even that of the other band members, three Ornette Coleman tunes were also performed. I thought maybe Ornette's current two-bass band had inspired Nicolas to apply a cello to them, but it turned out that he had simply recently come across some sheet music and been listening to the classic quartet albums like This Is Our Music.

"Lonely Woman" opened the concert, tenor and cello voicing the melody slowly and with depth, but perhaps a little too slowly and without the shrillness that makes the original version so arresting. Afterwards, we discussed intonation in Coleman's music and Nicolas argued for not forcing himself to play out of tune just because it's Ornette. I'm of the opinion that well-applied out-of-tuness never hurts. "Congeniality"'s stop-start head provided space for a more chaotic, wilder energy.

One of the concert's great joys was in seeing how fluid and flexible the music was in terms of passing leads and solos around, forming duos and trios, slipping into unaccompanied passages, varying dynamics from forte to near-stillness and making it all seem spontaneous. The traditional and rigid head-solos-head format still has a place, but a more organic, unsystematic mode of organisation is, in my view, the nec plus ultra. This, combined with the instrumentation, gave much of the music a chamber feel, and the audience responded to that: you could hear a pin drop.

Anja's less of an improviser than the other three, so her parts - the occasional lead and lots of bowed or plucked accompanying figures - seemed more pre-planned. Still, everyone commented on the freshness and lightness the cello brought.

Aleksi really came into his own during the second set, notably for an absolutely superb unaccompanied solo which let the silence around it be heard, with notes sparkling in the darkness.

Lionel is another player who's really been stepping it up recently, becoming a great orchestrator and humorist. He's been playing with the Bulgarian pianist Sabin Todorov for years, and that's an excellent group to hear him with, but word has gotten out, and he's almost ubiquitous now. A highlight was when he mischievously accompanied one of Aleksi's solos solely with the squeak of his hi-hat pedal.