Thursday, January 18, 2007

VVG Trio - 17/01/2007@Jazz Station, Bruxelles

Bruno Vansina - as, ss (website)
Gulli Gudmundsson - b (website)
Teun Verbruggen - d (website | myspace)

The concert started with "In Orbit" and "Miss Apple," two tunes from In Orbit, one of last year's better Belgian jazz albums. "In Orbit" serves as the trio's theme song, and they played a variation of it to close the concert. The first time around was meditative, the second upped the rhythmic drive, but in a flattened-out way reminiscent of In A Silent Way that allowed Vansina a lot of leeway to stretch the already langourously-phrased melody even further. Gudmundsson's lightly distorted arco added something of the textural effect the keyboards and guitar created on that album.

In both versions of "In Orbit," Gudmundsson sampled himself in real-time, a technique he returned to often. Sometimes just to densify the overall texture, a jazz equivalent to a rock band's second guitarist, but on a new composition of his, the magnificent elegy "Too Soon," he layered several slow and spare pure-toned melodies on top of each other, in the end achieving something like an entire section portraying a sunrise. Vansina added a mournful melody on soprano, but the greatest moment was a section utilising the bassist's incredible control of bowed overtones, that sounded like an ancestral reed instrument coming from far away.

These examples hint at the interesting space the VVG inhabits. While Bruno Vansina is clearly a contemporary bop-inspired player, lots of details progresively muddy that categorisation. His soloing, especially on soprano, seems to come just as much from a more folkloric way of concieving melodic variations on top of set chords. Gudmundsson's bass parts encourage this perception, as chords often span several bars (which can be a fairly long time when playing a slow mid-tempo 7/4) and are firmly established with a fixed, syncopated rhythmic pattern. Rhythmically, the VVG slipped easily between rumbling free time, boisterous back-beats and quiet funk. In fact, only once did they engage in 4/4 swing - not out of of obligation, but because it made sense at that point.

My concert-going habits may lead readers to believe that there are only two drummers in Belgium, Teun and Lionel Beuvens, but I assure you that that is not the case. It's just that I never tire of the way Teun manages to generate grooves that are busy and detail-filled, yet absolutely limpid and highly interactive with everything else that's happening.

Teun and Bruno, as entreprising thirtysomethings, started their own label, RAT Records, a few years ago. Both VVG Trio releases are on it, but they've also started branching out, with two excellent albums that present quite different takes on the jazz/rock/pop/improv nexus: Rackham's Juanita K and Othin Spake's The Ankh.

The next VVG Trio album will be recorded live in March, with returning guests Magic Malik on flute and Jozef Dumoulin on piano. They were both present on the second, live, disc of In Orbit, but hadn't seen the music before playing it. The result was fascinating, in an exploratory, messy way. I asked Teun if they'd learn the music beforehand this time and he replied "I hope not. They play better when they don't know the music."