Monday, August 18, 2003

Nelson Veras Quartet - Mons, 15/08/2003

Nelson VerasNelson Veras is a young Brazilian guitarist who's been living in France for the last 8 years. He even speaks French without the slightest hint of an accent. He was accompanied by "Magic" Malik Mezzadri on flute, David Yvinec on bass and Stéphane Galland on drums.

I've of course seen Galland many times, playing with AKA Moon and Greetings From Mercury, among others. He is without a doubt an incredible drummer, superimposing rhythms and meters with disconcerting ease, while at the same time transmitting huge amounts of energy and a simply irresistable groove. His latest gig was drumming for Joe Zawinul. The other three musicians were new to me, although I've heard bits of Malik's playing on CD.

The two sets consisted of nearly uninterrupted music: standards (American, Brazilian and French) and one composition by Malik were strung together and exploded so as to become pretty much unrecognisable. In fact, at one point while Malik was simultaneously playing flute and singing, he started playing a melody that flitted through his head and suddenly burst out laughing because (he would later explain) even he couldn't figure out what song it was! So despite the repertoire, it didn't sound anything like a "standards gig."

The music itself was quite varied, as it could veer (either sharply or more progressively) from straight-ahead swing (or rather, straight-ahead bass and as close to straight-ahead swing as Galland will allow himself to get) to very calm atmospheric sections to more rock- or groove-oriented vamps to sweetly melodic soloing and back again.

Galland's intrinsic hotness was nicely offset by Veras's cool guitar lines and comping (and vice-versa), sounding at times close to Pat Metheny. Veras uses all of the fingers on his right hand, which allows him to create both extremely fast lines and from time to time nice polyphony. Malik's playing was a joy of melody and virtuosity. Add in his occasional wordless (and generally near-falsetto) singing and you have an extremely charismatic player. This quartet will be going into the studio in december to record what will be Veras's first album as leader.

It was my first visit to the K.fee club, which is a very warm and welcoming place, which will be participating in the upcoming Mons en Jazz festival.

photo credit: Stéphane Barthod

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Aulochrome - Antwerpen, 15/08/2003

Anthony Braxton & aulochromeThe aulochrome is an instrument recently invented by Belgian François Louis. François is well-known within the saxophone world, as he makes mouthpieces for the likes of Joe Lovano. A few years ago, he set out to create a wind instrument that would expand musical possibilities. His main desire was to extend the lower range of the instrument. On a regular saxophone, how high you can go depends on the player, whereas how low you can go is limited by the instrument itself. On the aulochrome, apparently, you can create notes so low as to be inaudible: there is effectively no upper- or lower- register limit.

For the last year, Fabrizio Cassol (best-known as leader of AKA Moon) has been practicing intensively on the aulochrome. As there is only one model in existence, he is the instrument's only practitioner. Early this year, he premiered a composition by Philippe Boesman written specifically for aulochrome and the night before this presentation played the aulochrome in an improvised music context for the first time.

Here, both François Louis and Fabrizio Cassol were present, along with pianist Fabian Fiorini, to talk about and give musical examples of what the aulochrome could do. I suppose that the goal of these presentations, of which there have been several, is to generate interest, both from musicians and potential manufacturers. Judging by the praise lavished on Fabrizio and François by Dave Liebman and the swarm of people around Fabrizio afterwards, along with prior interest shown by saxophonists as diverse as Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker and Anthony Braxton, the aulochrome has a possible future.

So, what does it sound like? Well, the aulochrome is essentially two soprano saxophones brought together by a double mouthpiece (with two reeds) and a common key mechanism. Each key is split in two, so the tubes can be played in unisson or separately at will. The double mouthpiece means that the saxophone player's mouth muscles get much more of a work-out than on a regular mouthpiece. Fabrizio said that he was observing trumpet and trombone players and asking them how they dealt with the demands of their instruments on their embouchure.

The instrument is quite powerful, somewhat overwhelming the small room we were in. The fact that one is playing two instruments at once poses not only a technical challenge to the performer - of which there seem to be many, as Fabrizio even claimed that "It's not a saxophone, it's another instrument" - but also a harmonic challenge: the two tones generate at least one (and often more) differential tone, which is the low note mentioned earlier. Such acoustic effects mean that the aulochrome generates a very dense, but harmonically ambiguous sound(s). These differential tones tend to be major, making it difficult to truly sound minor. Fabrizio said that Charlie Haden, listening to the aulochrome, kept on saying "Can you play it in a minor key?"

Of course, the ability to play absolutely perfect unisson lines as easily as on a regular saxophone would seem to make it a natural bebop instrument. However, once counter-point, independent articulation and other techniques are employed, the instrument comes into its own to produce a truly orchestral range of sounds. Thus, as Fabrizio said, the aulochrome should be at home in any context, classical, contemporary, jazz or other.

Check out this article for some more info.

(photo credit: Jos L. Knaepen)

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Peter Brötzmann, William Parker and Hamid Drake - Antwerpen, 09/08/2003

I looked long and hard for the venue of the Antwerpen Free Music Festival. I even had to stop in an internet café to look at a map (the one I had printed out turned out to be too imprecise). So I got there over an hour late. Fortunately, the show started quite late as well, so I only missed the first of the three concerts. I was told that I didn't miss much. I'll only comment on the second of the two concerts I saw.

I'd never seen Parker or Brötzmann before, but this was my 4th time seeing Drake. Finally, he played the way I saw him play the first time (with Assif Tsahar and Peter Kowald). The last two times I'd seen him, he was with David Murray, and was much more "shackled in". Here, Parker and Drake created incredibly deep, visceral and, in some respects, primal rhythms for Brötz to blow over. Pure joy to listen to. At one point, I was thinking "This is how people must have felt, listening to Basie, back in the day."

Brötzmann was of course blowing hard for most of the night, but also had significant stretches of more lyrical playing where he recalled the breath and vibrato of Ben Webster. For one of the two (I think) pieces, Parker played on a moroccan bass, playing various ostinatos, over which Brötzmann blew orientalese on clarinet and Drake played more freely at first, then going into various African rhythms. They brought the house down!

The only weak point was when Brötzmann and Parker went into ballad-type playing (chord changes and everything!), Drake just lost the focus, drive and intensity that he has on more dynamic pieces. Maybe that's one of his limitations? It was a bit unfortunate, as Parker and Brötzmann were playing quite beautifully, the latter closer than ever to Ben Webster.

After the show, we decided to skip the closing mega-jam so as not to risk spoiling the memory of the amazing concert. We were sitting at a café and Hamid stopped by. Every time I've met him, I've been astounded at how warm a person he is. This time he surprised me by detailling his itinerary several months from now, a feat which most musicians are incapable of doing. In fact, many touring musicians seem to barely know where they're headed next. Hamid said he does everything himself, so I guess he better remember where he's going, because no-one's going to remind him!

Welcome to be.jazz

The objective of this blog is to give a picture of the day-to-day happenings on the belgian jazz scene.