Monday, January 15, 2007

Qu4tre - 12/01/2007@K.Fée, Mons

Marco Locurcio - g
Nicolas Kummert - ts
Jacques Pili - b, el b
Teun Verbruggen - d

In 2003, Qu4tre released their debut album, which I liked a lot. Lieven Venken was on drums at the time. The melodies were affecting and imaginative, generally employing langourous long notes. The rhythms were rock-informed, but very light and mobile. Jacques Pili's acoustic bass guitar brought an unusual, but appropriate, sound. Trumpeter Bert Joris added his characteristically warm touch to a few tracks. It would be hard to imagine Joris playing on the 2005 follow-up. Much of what follows isn't too pleasant for me to say, as Teun and Nicolas are among my favourite be.people.

I haven't listened to the first album in a long time, but I still like that material whenever I hear it live. Submarine, however largely abandoned lightness and mobility in favour of an overdose of staid rock straight-eights, where both bass and guitar would play the root and the basic chords in a rhythmically monolithic fashion. I'd heard some of its material on stage before the album came out, and my misgivings were immediate and haven't changed. Even though the sound became heavier, the music lost a lot of its momentum: the melodies, thanks to Nicolas Kummert's cristalline tone, were still pretty, but the inflexible on-the-beat-ness of their phrasing was a little stultifying. The same pattern (heavy eighth-note bottom, floating whole- or half-note top) recurred a lot, and the narrowness of the rock appropriations was disappointing. The contrast with Rackham's approach is striking.

You can listen to "Not Wise", my favourite song off Submarine, on Nicolas's music download page (also check out NK4Tet and NKJazz, the two with-cello groups. I saw the former last September). It loosens things up with a drum'n'bass beat and an overdubbed saxophone choir.

The K.Fée concert was the first of a two-night live recording session. Perhaps my problems with this group are the result of incorrect expectations: after all, IVN really liked the concert, so what do I know? For example, I expected to hear mostly new tunes, but they mainly played stuff that's already been recorded. I couldn't tell if the tenor saxophone's soloing was meant to be buried and relegated to a textural element (albeit a cool one) by the electrically-powered rhythm section. At one point, when Nicolas essayed some funkier phrases with more percussive attacks, they seemed to find little purchase on those impassive straight-eights. I found that the music tended to sag or muddle along more than it took off, but this might have been a mix issue, maybe the recording will sound better. Most surprisingly, there were many times when I thought the music should have been louder: for a rock-influenced band, they never fully rocked out (a Jeff Buckley cover in particular seemed a missed opportunity).

Still, there were lots of very nice moments, too: a meditative, raga-tinged bass solo, a few delicate tenor-guitar duets, a sweet, slightly rustic ballad whose melody looped over and over, as well as all of the pieces taken from the first album, which veered away from the straight-eights pattern and Teun's drumming, which brought in nuance too often lacking elsewhere.

The K.Fée is shutting down in March, hopefully to reopen in a new location. Actually, the Qu4tre concerts are the last jazz concerts scheduled to take place there, but the Mons En Jazz mini-festival in February happens nearby and is generally followed by jams at the K.Fée. If you haven't been there yet, try to go. Its orange walls and textiles manage to create a warm, almost intimate, atmosphere despite its size, with a hint of North African exoticism.