Saturday, June 16, 2007

Chroma - 16/06/2007@Jazz Station, Bruxelles

Karel Van Marcke - Fender Rhodes, synth, p (MySpace)
Nicolas Kummert - ts, ss
Bart Quartier - vib
Peter Hertmans - g
Cédric Waterschoot - el b
Lionel Beuvens
Geike Arnaert - voc

First of all, thanks for the great Barcelona recommendations. I'll try to get around to as many of them as I can. Special mention goes to Damien for pointing out this two-day John Zorn extravaganza, which brings together Bar Kohkba, Electric Masada, Masada String Trio, Asmodeus and the Jamie Saft Trio. I had intended that feast to break my concert-going hiatus (it's been a month since the last one!) with a bang, but the bang turned to a whimper, with Chroma's lacklustre set.

Pianist and composer Karel Van Marcke used to have a big band called Jambangle (named after a Gil Evans tune) that released two CDs. The second one, 2003's Rememberance, was okay, something of a Belgian version of Darcy's Secret Society, though not as good. Chroma, though managed to sound both undeniably sophisticated but also far too often crushingly banal.

The first piece of the set (the second of the concert, as I missed the first) was based on a reggae groove. I'm not a reggae fan, but I've almost always found jazz musician renditions of reggae terrible, and this was no exception. It's only when they loosened the stylistic likeness that things got interesting: Bart Quartier's solo was accompanied only by the steady bassline that ran through much of the composition, but without the drums, it took on an intriguingly abstract quality.

Geike Arnaert, along with Peter Hertmans, joined the band from the second song onwards, but most of what she sang was incomprehensible and sounded strained. David Linx appears on Chroma's CD, which I haven't heard, and I could imagine him tackling Van Marcke's long, wordy, twisted lines with his usual imperious brio, but not just anybody can pull it off.

The last two pieces were somewhat better. One was slow and atmospheric, as piano arpeggios rippled gently, Lionel Beuvens's mallets thundered quietly as his cymbals created an impressionistic haze and Arnaert elongated, melisma-free syllables transformed her into a part of the overall texture. Hertmans gave a carefully-distilled solo that gathered pace - but not too much - as a back-beat slowly built up. "Rememberance," the last piece was drawn from Jambangle's repertoire. At times, it sagged into a mire of '80s jazzy-funky background music, but made up for that with interestingly imbricated rhythm parts that provided vamp-based platforms for loose instrumental dialogue. And Lionel's exaggerated body language added a much-needed dose of humour.

On the album excerpts available on his MySpace page, Arnaert sounds better, so maybe the sound system is to blame, and the music is a lot looser and more engaging, so maybe the personnel changes (Nicolas Kummert instead of Joachim Badenhorst and Quartier instead of Pascal Schumacher - note that three of the four are be.jazz favourites) had significant impact.