Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kaat Hellings - 19/12/2006@Arenbergschouwburg, Antwerpen

Kaat Hellings - p, voc (MySpace)
Joachim Badenhorst - cl, bcl (rawfishboys MySpace)
Yves Peeters - d

On the way to Antwerp and back, there was a fog so thick that roadside gas stations emerged like ghost ships, their fluorescent lights casting an otherworldly halo. My concert-going experience was also slightly strange: I was late and the staff didn't want to let me in, because the room was allegedly full to the brim. That wasn't too surprising, the concert being free, but at least I could stand before the door and listen. I discreetly opened it wider and wider to hear better, until a barely-able-to-stand drunk guy went right in and sat down on the other side of the door. That allowed me to see that there was some more floor space across the room, so, sober but emboldened, I did the late-arriver's hunched-over, semi-running thing across the front of the stage in between two songs. A few minutes later, the drunk guy was literally dragged out into the café area by the staff and I could just make out that they had to sort of wrestle with him on the ground to get him under control. The contrast with the music was huge.

I found out about Kaat when she sent me a MySpace friend request. I checked her page out, liked the songs and noticed that Joachim (who, with the Rawfishboys and Red Rocket records and the Skakk Trio concert, has become my favourite be.musician discovery of 2006. I have no idea if the local tastemakers follow the same things as I do, but I expect him to get some Django d'Or Nouveau Talent attention next year) and Yves Peeters (who I know mostly from the very good Jazzisfaction quartet, which released its second CD on De Werf recently) were her band, which further piqued my interest.

The MySpace tracks come from her just-released debut CD and reflect what I heard in concert rather well. Still, it was impressive to feel up close the kind of enveloping silence and stillness her slow songs carry within them and can impose around them. The smallest dynamic and tonal shifts were thus amplified. Her pieces are generally short, stately and haunting. I was regularly reminded of Jon Brion-ised Fiona Apple, in the complex lyrics and tortuous phrasing (though Kaat doesn't have Apple's facility), but also in the way one song's existential musing was regularly interrupted and enlivened by a wild two-beat and groaning bass clarinet (IKaat lists Sisel Endresen and Patricia Barber as influences on Kaat's MySpace page). A Pearl Jam cover ("Nothing Man") was very still, but her own "Improve My Day" bashed out a steady 5/4.

While Kaat's piano-playing itself didn't seem really technically demanding, it was far from mere ham-fisted repetition of a handful of chords: the progressions were long, sophisticated and elaborately arranged and distributed across the range of the keyboard, all in delicately-crafted support of each song's particular meaning.

Afterwards, I had the pleasure of talking at length with South African singer Tutu Puoane (website | MySpace) and Joachim over generously-offered and tasty CD release party appetisers and champagne. Tutu is recording an album in January to be released in May. I found out that Joachim is actually half South African, so I was the odd man out. Well, I recently rented a Samuel L. Jackson film set in Truth And Reconciliation Committee-era South Africa, does that count?