Bo Van Der Werf - bs
Magic Malik - fl, voc
Guillaume Orti - as
Laurent Blondiau - tp, flh
Fabian Fiorini - p
Jozef Dumoulin - Fender Rhodes
Nelson Veras - g
Gilbert Nouno - laptop
Jean-Luc Lehr - el b
Xavier Rogé - d
After Dimensions (De Werf) in 2002, Octurn remained silent for several years, performing sporadically and struggling to find a solid identity. In mid-2006, 21 Emanations (Yolk) definitely assured the group's creative renaissance, in part thanks to the help of two outside forces: drummer Dré Pallemaerts, who produced the album's second disc by remixing the first to startling effect, and flutist Magic Malik. Malik has now become a permanent member and, with founder and leader Bo Van Der Werf, its principal co-composer and brings a lighter, less tense sound and more playful feel. Octurn's forthcoming CD, Experience, is mostly made up of Malik's work. I attended the first of two semi-public recording sessions last September.
Experience will complete a trilogy of sorts, of which the second part is the sublime North Country Suite, composed by Pierre Van Dormael. The album is stunning and surprising for its sheer beauty and melodic concern. After the density of most of 21 emanations, hearing Laurent Blondiau's fluegelhorn clearly intone a heart-rending lead, or the band expose, abandon and reconstruct a disco-funk groove, was not exactly the expected thing.
Earlier in the decade, Octurn had tried and failed to sustain two drummers and two bassists, so now its attempting a slightly different thickening strategy. This time, the discrete Nelson Veras and regular guest Gilbert Nouno brought light touches, the latter underscoring instrumental solos with hums, clicks and droopy tones while also sculpting the instruments' sound in various ways. Xavier Rogé subbed for Chander Sardjoe. He's kind of a Stéphane Galland understudy, so while, naturally, he didn't have Sardjoe's smiling authority, the fit was fine. Through the changes, the basics remained: performances that move unpredictably in a complex web of interconnected compositions, arrangements, collective improvisations and solos, the rhythm section's exploitation of the mobility of second-line funk more for its mathematical implications than for its exuberance, while the horns maintain a more poetically ambiguous relationship to rhythm. Jean-Luc Lehr explained to me that rhythm section and horns often play totally independent material (in terms of chords and meters), so an element of chance is liberally sprinkled throughout the music.
On the first piece, in typical fashion, slow orchestral swells under a trumpet solo became a dizzying array of sounds coming from all directions at once. The second piece began by highlighting how Malik has changed the band's expressivity, as he played a slow melody that had a strange, moonscape beauty to it. Guillaume Orti's work also burned particularly brightly throughout the concert. He projects an outward passion while maintaining the laserbeam focus of his jagged, Braxton-ish lines.
Compared to the last time I saw Octurn, they were more low-key, but also less dense. The music gained in unhurried limpidity what it lost in overwhelming energy. "Flash," a tune of Malik's that's on its way to becoming a theme song and characterised by a variable-tempo ascending riff, typified this: it first appeared with winds-only soft-focus delicacy, and later in a more propulsive context, but without turning into the all-consuming drum'n'bass monster it had back in December. There were still some moments of blissful release, though. One came during Jozef Dumoulin's only solo, the exuberance of which was worthy of Alice Coltrane, as the others locked into a kind of Octurn-ised gospel euphoria. Later, Fabian Fiorini picked up some earlier melodic material and played it like it was Schubert. A particularly restful reading of the "Flash" motif indicated that its basic melody could have been lifted from a church hymn. It's those seemingly limitless possibilities and ability to surprise that keep me coming back for more.