The Flemish Jazz Meeting is essentially a showcase to hip foreign concert promoters to what's happening in Flanders (though not all musicians involved were Flemish, and a few were even Dutch). It's an insider thing, somewhere between a pageant, a super-market and a mail-order catalogue, that's not even listed on Vooruit's website - I got in because I won a ticket (and, thankfully, I was in excellent company). Five bands each got a short set of generally three songs each.
Robin Verheyen Narcissus Quartet (myspace)
Robin Verheyen is maturing out of his wunderkind phase (the challenge, I guess, is to move from impressive to meaningful), no doubt helped by spending a lot of time in New York. Taking off from the more abstract end of '60s bop, they played a single, continuous improvised piece that may (or may not) have incorporated some written material at some points. The quartet moved from colouristic rubato and free-form to a percussive climax and finally slipped into a slow-burn time feel that perpetually threatened to be overturned. Verheyen was mostly above the fray, urgent and slashing on soprano, gentle and thoughtful on tenor. I still find him a little cold, but at least he's working hard to push his music outwards.
Narcissus Quartet - "Wudalianchi"
VVG Trio + Jozef Dumoulin (website)
This was a surprise. On the VVG's first two albums, the open-mindedness was implicit, but the music remained melodically-oriented and neatly organised even at its most improvisational. The three pieces they played here came from a brand-new album I haven't heard yet, and brought in a denser group sound as well as electricity (in the form of an electric bass and pre-recorded sounds). On the third piece, after having looped a sort of sneezing sound that was both funny and irritating, Bruno played with and around a pre-recorded version of the song's melody. The inflexibility of the recording was artfully embedded into a loose almost-groove in an intriguing and unusual way.
The most satisfying piece, though, harked back to the old days. In Gulli Gudmundsson's "Too Soon," against a pre-recorded backdrop of Sigur Ros-ian slow-moving strings and the rustling and plinking of drums and piano, the bassist and Bruno played and played around an elegiac melody.
VVG Trio - "In Orbit - the blast one"
Jef Neve Trio (myspace)
Back again so soon? I'm not complaining. "Sehnsucht," a piece of Schubert-inspired brooding, has become a staple, and in it the jazz looseness and the classical melody sit down and chat like old friends. The other two pieces managed to imply bustling activity and barely-contained enthusiasm even in their quietest moments. Jef is in such a fertile patch right now, he's like the Lil' Wayne of Belgian jazz.
Jef Neve Trio - "Nothing But A Casablanca Turtle Slideshow"
Maak's Spirit (myspace)
Quite clearly, Maak's Spirit is the closest thing Belgium has to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Their usual theatricality was enhanced by a low-budget light show made up of neon lights and studio projectors strewn across the stage and operated by someone sitting next to the drums. The great concert I saw last spring had been based on the compositions from their latest album, but this time they improvised freely and delighted in humourously poking at standard codes of conduct. The dynamic range was vast: they projected more loudly and more harshly than everyone else, despite Laurent Blondiau (trumpet) and Jeroen Van Herzeele (tenor) and Eric Thielemans (drums) not being miked, but ended with a silence (and in near-darkness) caressed only by Jean-Yves Evrard's unplugged electric guitar strumming.
Maak's Spirit - "Strange Meeting"
Flat Earth Society (website)
A big band that draws the raw energy of Duke Ellington's jungle music into a contemporary complexity and an absurdist sense of humour: a growling wah-wah trumpet solo ended up being accompanied only by a coffee mug. To draw a really blog-centric comparaison, FES is an Industrial Jazz Group with a lot more institutional support and regular work.
Introducing the last of the three pieces, the clarinetist, leader and composer Peter Vermeersch mentioned a cameo by Joseph Goebbels. This turned out to mean FES's accordionist repeatedly interrupting the band, first to instruct them, in German, to play with less swing, then with a flat-footed two-beat, then with less chords and so on, until they were reduced to a single staccato note blown in unison. By that time, the docility with which the Nazi's orders were followed had become a little troubling. It was uplifting and poignant, then, when the musicians (the Goebbels impersonator and Teun Verbruggen, in his third appearance of the evening, excepted) filed out from behind their music stands to gather in a semi-circle at the front of the stage and attempt to reconstruct a quiet, swinging music.
The only album I have of theirs is fairly old and not nearly as good as what they played here, so no MP3.