Thursday, December 22, 2005

on the to-get list

Trombonist Robin Eubanks of the Dave Holland Quintet says:

"We finished recording a new Quintet cd today [21st of December]. It should be out late Spring or early Summer, 2006."

Monday, December 19, 2005

citizen jazz update

Fay Claassen - Two Portraits of Chet Baker
The Dutch singer does what the double-album says on the tin, with former Baker accompanists like bassist Hein Van De Geyn and drummer John Engels lending credibility. The first CD doubles as a Portrait of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet ft. Chet Baker, with Claassen wordlessly filling Baker's role. The second CD finds her singing standards in a somewhat expanded setting (add trumpet and piano). The first CD focuses tightly on its subject, the second, if heard blind, is just a nice and elegant, yet unremarkable, vocal standards session.

Ben Sluijs - True Nature
Up until two years ago, saxophonist Sluijs was synonymous with lyricism and a beautiful, light alto tone and his quartet with melodic West Coast-derived jazz. His new quartet is an altogether different proposition, the transformation amazing. The two saxophone line-up now mostly takes after the Ornette Coleman Quartet's openness and some of its peculiar brand of loose-fitting melody, with a little Coltrane thrown in, as well as Sluijs's abiding interest in African sounds. There is one strong link to his previous work, though: an incredibly fine-grained control of timbre. The Manolo Cabras-Marek Patrman rhythm section is fascinating, too.

Maak's Spirit - Al Majmaa
The Belgian sextet teams up with a group of Gnawas and a Malian string player, which allows me to essay some political commentary. I'm not sure how wise that is. Anyway, fantastic music in which Gnawa chants blend with Western horns, n'goni engages electric guitar, myriad percussion beefs up the drums/electric bass groove.

I bestowed Citizen Jazz's coveted "ELU" ("Chosen") distinction upon the last two CDs, ie. they're highly recommended, but may be lost in the shuffle, as three other discs got the same treatment...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Von Schlippenbach/Parker/Lovens - 18/12/2005, Brussels

The Archiduc is a trendy, expensive, venerable Art Nouveau bar, but it is also surprisingly often home to improvised music concerts. According to the presenter, the Alexander Von Schlippenbach Trio is the longest-running currently-active free music trio (however, he also said that the AEC disbanded after Malachi Favors's death, so what does he know), 33 years and ending a 12-concert tour in this cramped Brussels bar on a sunday afternoon.

Prior to that was a duo between Guy Strale on stuff (incl. piano, clarinet, a balloon, frame drum, a wind-up Santa Claus...) and English trombonist Gail Brand. It was low-key and enjoyable: they moved easily from soothing trombone drones + background sounds to rowdy dialogue.

I'd never really heard any of the three participants in the main act. I expected really forbidding improv, what I got was not-that-difficult and fantastic free jazz. The music, at its busiest, seemed a perfectly logical descendant of the latter years of John Coltrane's career (including the Quartet post-A Love Supreme), mixed a whole lot of Monk (both avant and straight-up; they even swung once or twice) coming from Von Schlippenbach. Parker was on tenor the whole time. Though I was poorly seated (directly behind him), a major moment came when he performed one of his famed circular-breathing multiphonics solos. I know many consider them old-hat, repetitive, circus acts, even, but I'd never heard one before, so I reserve the right to be amazed: for a few minutes, it was like hearing the whole of the saxophone at once, high, low and in-between. The Euro Free Improv guys are dominating my end-of-the-year concert-going: Peter Brötzmann played a fantastic duo with his son Caspar a few weeks ago that I still haven't written about, now another concert-of-the-year level performance.

The solo piano encore

Afterwards, I chatted with Parker a bit, breaking the ice by telling him that they'd been a trio longer then I'd been alive. He replied "I'll have to start getting used to the idea." True, considering that the same could be said for roughly half the crowd.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Omar Sosa Trio - 14/12/2005, Brussels

Omar Sosa is Cuban, prolific, charismatic (as a stage presence and as a player) and apparently relatively popular (hundreds filled the Espace Senghor's theatre to capacity), yet it seems to me that he's rarely discussed in jazz circles. I hadn't heard any of his music since a couple of rather old albums and had never seen him live. He was accompanied by the impressively pot-bellied percussionist Miguel Anga Diaz (who's as ubiquitous as one musician can be) and an African electric bassist whose name escapes me (it's always the bassists, isn't it?).

The first sounds to be heard came from backstage: an African chant accompanied by a small frame drum. Sosa came out holding a candle in one hand and a red cloth in the other, dressed as usual in white robes. He blessed the piano with the cloth. He then leant over and produced discreet electronic whistles on a sort of touchpad-controlled FX box set up to the piano's left. In just a few gestures, he let the crowd know that the Ancient To Future principle was in full effect, that ancient and modern rituals were going to mix and that great things were coming. Unfortunately, what followed wasn't quite as great as I hoped, or, perhaps more accurately, I found the style of a significant part of what was played to be kitsch and bordering on restaurant sonic wallpaper. Frustrating, as had the music's slant been set at a different angle, this could have contended for concert of the year status.

The very long first piece summed almost everything up. It was a kaleidoscope that flitted from New Age-y World Beat to fast 'n' furious post-bop to 80's blues-scales-on-syth-driven jazz-funk to salsa to a seamless Cuban funk melding. I had trouble with the New Age-y World Beat bit, which returned often throughout the concert. The 80s jazz-funk bit (think "Amandla") was achieved through FX boxes that processed the grand pianos sound. At times these effects were cool (and I'd never seen anyone do that before, so the novelty itself was interesting), but turning a nice-sounding Schimmel grand into a Casio... Call me old-fashioned, but it made me queasy, even if it was also kind of fun. The (all too) brief fast 'n' furious Cuban-inflected post-bop bit and the salsa bit displayed Sosa's thrilling virtuosity. More of that (salsa, són, danzón and things like that did return at various points, always to my great delight), combined with the *fantastic* "Cuban classical" piano-percussion duet that served as a first encore would have been a perfect night for me. But, misguidedly, Sosa did not ask for my opinion.

Sosa has a great sense of humour too: the second piece included a sequence of clusters he played by collapsing on the keyboard, first with forearm, then elbow, then backside and climaxing in some dancing. During the second encore, he got the crowd singing along gender lines, miming female beauty and male ponderousness.

That "Cuban classical" encore (yeah, it's not pristine, it's *raw*)

getting back to my...

Maybe old news to some, but my Okayplayer membership lapsed years ago:

The Roots on MySpace
?uestlove on MySpace
and Kamal too
and still... The Roots Live

Thursday, December 15, 2005

e - u - rup! e - u - rup! e - u - rup! (to the tune of "u - s -a! u - s - a!")

Stuart Nicholson does it again. "It" being singlehandedly creating a rift between the US and EU jazz scenes, vastly overstating its importance and oversimplifying the nature of each continent's music, thereby handily eliminating the myriad elements that prick holes in his argument (which you can get more of, as well as a taste of his Pitchfork-style reviewing).

At the root of Nicholoson's point, there's an odd conflation: the secessionist spirit of the 60s euro-free jazz guys is set against the staidness of the Marsalis era, even though both epochs are now very faded (and, obviously, didn't coincide at all). It's too easy to point out the flaws in Nicholson's arguments: the US progressives and avantists of the 80s and 90s and 00s, the Euro nothing-new-heres of all times, Django Rheinhardt rendering this whole debate moot before the Second World War was done, the ignorance of music outside the US-EU axis, etc. and so on. It used to be that Euro critics would look down upon their jazz-playing countrymen as inherently inferior to their American idols. Now we're supposed to believe that "Euros are inherently less hidebound" is a worthier line of thought. It's telling that in the Independant on Sunday article, the quotes from the musicians are far more nuanced, precise and interesting than the claims of the critics.

I'm discussing the first article mainly because cited in it, but barely discussed, is my man Alexi Tuomarila. Not someone I consider to be radically redefining jazz, but a really good musician nonetheless.

jazz drumming (detail)

One little effect I love is when the drummer doubles the tempo, but just on the high-hat, so that the original tempo is maintained on the ride and the high-hat is playing on every off-beat. The net effect is exciting, then destabilising: there's the initial double-time illusion, then the "wait a minute..." elucidation. Old stuff (Max Roach did it and probably others before him), I know, but still nice when it comes up on, say "A Handful of Stars," the first track on Serge Chaloff's "Blue Serge" (which is, as you might have guessed, the example currently in my ears).

Nathalie Loriers & Philippe Aerts - 13/12/2005, Brussels

Interesting midday concert yesterday at the Musée des Instruments de Musique. I saw the first Aerts-Loriers duo at the 2003 Django d'Or awards and found it really boring. I've seen her in other contexts (sextet, accompanying a singer, in the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, duetting with an oud player) and never really warmed to her. This time, however, she (they) had me from hello. That raises the old is it me/is it the performer/is it the space/is it the time of day questions. In this particular case, I put it down to the duo itself being better and the space being exceptionally well-suited to their music.

They started out at a high level right away and maintained it right through to the end. "Walking Through Walls" exposed her elegant manner, diamond-clear lines and a delicate swing that is occasionally reinforced with shifting rhythmic patterns, such as the 9/8 bass figure that interrupts the forward movement of "The Last Thought of the Day."

The template was set, which allowed the music to be at its best when setting a foot outside it. A so-new-it's-untitled piece did this by being more complex (a highly syncopated and unpredictable 5/4 bass that still managed to imply swing, less conventional, but not more dissonant, harmony) and thus being both attractive and interesting. The following "Danse éternelle" was inspired by the unending movement of trees and had something slower, darker and denser about it.

The last song before the encore was "Dinner with Ornette and Thelonious" began with a bass that had a Carribbean undercurrent to it and later developed a theme of Ornette-ish playfulness. As an encore, they played the set's only standard, [spoiler]"Someday My Prince Will Come,"[/spoiler] which Loriers prefaced with one of those extended "guess this tune" intros which inevitably make you smile at the moment of recognition. Relive it for yourself by listening to it below.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

ready for the desert

On friday I bought a second-hand jacket that looks a lot like Tyner's (a few shades darker, a bit longer, perhaps) and I thought I should let you know. Wearing it today, along with a lilac scarf (a semi-random combination I hurriedly arrived at this morning, but a rather succesful one, I think). And other pieces of clothing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters - 10/12/2005, Brussels

I saw David Murray's Gwo-Ka Masters project a few years ago in Antwerpen and came away somewhat dissappointed, despite the presence of Hamid Drake and the extraordinary charisma of singer/griot Guy Konket. The album of the time, Yonn-Dé, was better. Now I understand that they were in a transitional period between Yonn-Dé's rural atmosphere and the follow-up Gwotet's more driving funk (both albums are excellent). On saturday, both Drake and Konket were absent, but the rest of the band was the same, including the Senegalo-Vietnamese guitarist Hervé Samb, whose sophisticated afro-jazz-with-a-touch-of-Hendrix playing was a consistent highlight, whether he was taking a long unaccompanied intro or laying down chicken scratch funk rhythmic patterns.

The concert started with an overly-dense groove that left little room for dynamics and seemed to force the soloists to operate under their own steam. Progressively, the rhythm opened up. For example, on the third song, drummer J.T. Lewis played a traditional Guadeloupean rhythm led by a dancing hi-hat. Later, the two percussionists/vocalists engaged in a "mouth drum" duet before Murray returned to the stage and played a cheeky, tongue-slapping bass clarinet introduction to an easy-going reggae version of a Lee Morgan ballad. In his solo, the leader equally acknowledged two clarinet traditions: the creole roots of jazz and Eric Dolphy's 60s revitalisation of the instrument. The obligatory encore started with a disappointing tune, but was buoyed by a seamless segue into a Sonny-Rollins-meets-samba moment, thus completing the panorama of Murray's inheritance.

[with thanks to Jazzques]

Monday, December 12, 2005

new oldies #1: up and down and up and stop

In reviews of "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note," special note is always made of Coltrane's 27-minute solo on the title track. It has apparently been reverently passed around among well-known saxophonists in bootleg form for decades. Bluntly put, I find it to have some off-putting aspects mixed in with its greatness. More importantly, the whole double album is something of a blue-balling tease.

The AAJ review puts a positive spin on things: "Rather than having the group make any kind of concession, the broadcast was more akin to casually dropping in for 45 minutes, regardless of where the musicians were in their set."* That's all well and good, but who in their right mind would walk out on "Afro Blue" just as Coltrane is gearing up for what promises to be an overwhelming solo and Tyner has just laid down a beautiful, nuanced statement? "My Favorite Things" takes 21 minutes to reach boiling point; at the 22nd minute, Alan Grant announces the end of the broadcast and, incidentally, the end of the album.

To return to the solo, it is awe-inspiring, but in a rather terrifying way. That terror lingers on until Coltrane plays "Afro Blue"'s personable 6/8 melody. It's the single-minded relentlessness that does it, I think. Jones is battering you, while Coltrane is staring down mere mortals with an immortal gaze. According to Archie Shepp, during those Half Note gigs "it was like being in church." If so, Coltrane was the god rather than the preacher, and I have some trouble with that. It's a plausible position for Coltrane to take, if you think back to the declaration in the BBC's documentary: "I want to be remembered as a saint." A saint isn't a god, but openly aspiring to that status is disturbing. Further, compare the band's progressive disassembly on "1D1U" to their flow on "Afro Blue:" on the former they're punching (against), on the latter they're rollicking (together), especially on the part of the soprano solo that we get to hear. It's a collective movement that strikes me as far more embracing and positive than 1D1U. It's so powerful, that every time I listen, I let myself get drawn in too deep and I'm disgusted all over again when Grant's voice comes in and recommends that we "stay beautiful."

I don't want to give the impression that the music is less than brilliant. The audio fidelity might not be all that, but it definitely captures the jazz club feel, with you sitting right up front and getting bowled over.

* It also calls the Jimmy Garrison solo that opens the album "one of his finest on record," which may as well be an insult, considering that Garrison is heard alone (ie. without Grant's voice on top, for about a minute and a half).

P.S. This remarkably inept (and mercifully brief) review almost sounds like randomly-generated, semi-coherent spam.

take me out to the music game

"Certainly nobody had to be educated to like classical music in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it flourished, and when in fact it was the only musical game in town... In those days, the music we now call classical spoke to people as readily as pop music speaks to us now."

This statement by Greg Sandow reminds me of something I railed against back in august.

A reader comments:

"What town are you talking about? My peasant immigrant forebears didn't know any classical music. What they knew was folk music, that was handed down aurally. Of course, this Type of music is dead in the West, and quickly dying out in the rest of the world. It has been replaced by composed pop musio."

I half agree: folk music is overlooked by classical music historians (I'm surprised to see Sandow do this, considering his background), but to call it "dead in the West" is an overstatement. Celtic music, Greek music, Balkan music, Gypsy music, does flamenco count?, various flavours of other Spanish folk musics, etc. continue to exist in core forms and as influences in other spheres (many European jazz musicians have pillaged folk for melodies and rhythms). I think that this myopia leads to the exageration of classical music's social importance, at least before the rise of a mass middle-class market extricated the music from the palaces and wealthy patrons. Maybe that was an exception rather than the historical norm.

opera is the new something-or-other

I don't know what happened. "I don't like opera" is the official line, but I spent a good part of yesterday watching it and enjoying it greatly. I randomly caught a broadcast of the Berlin Philharmonic led by Sir Simon Rattle performing Carmina Burana (admittedly just a concert, not a full opera). They were on "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi," so I had to stay and watch the percussionist go mad, but the rest was often great too. There's an odd mix of truly beautiful melodies, others that are almost irritatingly naïve and a moment of fantastic shout-singing in the second act. Serendipitously, IVN's mother offered us a double DVD containing Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi Fan Tutte" later that very day. I eagerly watched the first act of Cosi, principally to hear for myself what had been the source of Canadienne's south-of-France woes. I liked the light-heartedness of it ("touch my foot" (!)). I now feel primed, ready and compelled (by how rockin' Carmina Burana seemed to be, up close and personal) to go to my first-ever real, big opera: La Monnaie's production of Wagner's "Der fliegende Holländer" (it's also on TV a few days before Christmas).

Interestingly, the German audience didn't clap at all during the 2004 performance, preferring to cough and stir in their seats between movements, whereas the 1989 La Scala crowd applauded the end of every scene and the singers even took a bow at the end of the first act.

Friday, December 09, 2005

jazz and blogs #4

Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music
The first page is the blog, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Douglas created his own label and has built a ArtistShare-like model around it. You can buy official and less official music in CD or mp3 (albums or tracks at iTunes prices) formats, subscribe to get discounts and exclusives, listened to celebrity playlists. And the design is really nice. It seems like the online DIY route is becoming increasingly viable for people who aren't quite as famous as Prince. Chicago Creative Arts Online
mp3s, videos, podcast interviews, some free, some for-pay, at iTunes-style prices. Another really interesting concept, bringing lots of content from a part of the Chicago scene (Ernest Dawkins, Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Corey Wilkes...) to your computer, mp3 player and even phone!

Jazz Podcast Network
A handful of podcasts, often with a regional bent.

Laurent de Wilde
A well-known French pianist (he's also written a Monk biography). The link leads you directly to the blog, but also check out the main site's nice design.

Josh Roseman
I've noted this trombonist's blog before, but it seems to have become more accessible of late and continues to add audio.

Scratch My Brain
Trombonist Jeff Albert's blog. On his site, you can download his album "One," which is well worth your time.

Jake Hanlon
A guitar student at the University of North Texas, nice, extended thoughts on the learning process.

Journalist David Adler on jazz, politics (a Jewish-Conservative slant?) and links to his articles.

Talia is a non-profit label/events association run by Pierre Vaiana, a fantastic soprano saxophonist (L'Ame des poètes, Chris Joris Experience, Foofango...).

Tune Up
A new .be blog that's already making controversial statements ("always wondered what's so great about the BJO"). Always good to see more people discussing what's going on over here.

Jazz Podium
Dutch-language live reviews and nice photos. Check out the one of Solomon Burke in this post (click on it for a larger version).

The Daily Jazz
Discussion of classic albums.

WGBH Jazz Blog
A three-headed blog from the radio station's jazz department.

Miles Radio
Devoted to...

What's Cooking
Singer Yoon Sun Choi (not to be confused with singer Youn Sun Nah)

Jazz Envoy
Canadian jazz news

You might also want to keep an eye on AAJ's Jazz Blog Listing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt

This country truly is the greatest in the world. Here's proof: the federal ministry for administrative simplification has launched a campaign under the name Kafka. Click on "campagne" and watch the video (no French or Dutch required). This ad runs on TV. There's a comparaison between Hercules's 12 tasks and the 12 goals assigned to the ministry. The minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, is referred to as Q. This is a great country, I tell you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

not what i asked for

Things seem all rosy on this blog: great new CDs, fantastic concerts, witty observations and comments... but there's a dark lining to this silver cloud. Like the night before last.

I went over to the Sounds to see the Grass Monkeys (Lionel Beuvens on drums, Nicolas Kummert on tenor, Alexi Tuomarila on piano, among others), but instead, Beuvens, pianist Erik Vermeulen and a bassist whose name I didn't catch were doing a clearly impromptu standards gig. I walked in on the set's last song ("Come Rain Or Come Shine") at around 5 to 10. This surprised me, as concerts at the Sounds usually start at 10. I stayed through the break and listened to maybe 30 minutes of the second set before deciding that the music wasn't worth going to bed at 1:30 for and left. Vermeulen was a lot more fiery and inventive a few weeks ago at the Archiduc, Beuvens more incisive last week backing up his sister. I probably spent more time in the car than at the club.

* title provided by Jef Neve

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

the dawn of a new jazzblogosphere

I'm listening to The Bad Plus's Suspicious Activity as I type. Some of it, I'm really taken with ("Anthem for the Earnest"), some less so, even if I have to admit that their music really doesn't sound like anyone else's (that I know of). Be that as it may, check out their awesome Ornette Coleman post.

Speaking of The Bad Plus: ironic or not? Discord rages in the pages of the Village Voice. Nate Chinen says no (scroll down to second article) Francis Davis says yes. Note Chinen's prescience (dating back to 29/03/2004): "The Pixies' 'Velouria' came across like Squarepusher wrangling 'Chariots of Fire.'"

Monday, December 05, 2005


Finally managed to make time to go see Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Plans to go had been foiled every time, for weeks now. It was like I was an evil villain and an invisible, unknown to me hero was protecting the world from my dastardly doings. I'll admit to puzzlement at some of the characterisations, but enjoyed the overall structure. A nice touch: during the initial phone conversation between Julien and Florence, she says "Tais-toi" (shut up) and Miles Davis is allowed to take center stage. Funnily enough, Jeanne Moreau is currently starring on a big-budget TV mini-series. Not that you'd recognise her, what with her being 50 years older.

After the film, I was looking over a poster for an upcoming David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters show. A much older woman next to me seemed enthused. "Was he in the Chicago Art Ensemble (sic)?" "Um, no." She seemed unconvinced, but continued smiling beatifically, clearly not needing my reassurances that the show would be great.

Friday, December 02, 2005


I've just found another map/route planning site that covers Europe: Map 24. It's a thoroughly awesome and fun 3D Java app. It's slightly slower and more complex than rivals such as Mappy or Via Michelin, but has a lot of unique features: the map can be rotated left, right, up and down; plan a route, press play in the Route Flight box and watch yourself go!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

good talkers

Francis Davis gives a good, concise description of Lafayette Gilchrist. Although I haven't heard the album in question, much the same could be said of The Music According To (and indeed, I do say it in my Citizen Jazz review):

"In his early thirties and from Baltimore, Gilchrist talks about his love of hip-hop and go-go in interviews, and I think I hear these influences in his solos and septet writing—both of which stress the downbeat in a way more common to black pop since James Brown than to jazz. There might even be an element of crunk in his crashingly rhythmic use of tone clusters. But his music is jazz through and through, and the angularity and elegiac slant of pieces like "Thorn Bush," "Bubbles on Mars," and "Unsolved, Unresolved" suggest nothing so much as Andrew Hill circa Point of Departure. Oh, and did I mention the rumbas and habaneras that creep into his accompaniments? It's all flavorable, even if Gilchrist hasn't blended it all together yet and his sidemen (members of a Baltimore group called the New Volcanoes) aren't quite up to his level. Slide over, Jason Moran—you've got competition."

And The Bad Plus invite you to get lost in the Mehldau Vortex:

"It is a dizzying effect, and one that is particularly devastating to a fellow jazz musician following along the chord changes. It is when a standard played at a very fast tempo achieves a stupefying liquefaction.

( are tossed into the abyss and lose all comprehension of form...the piano, bass, and drums become a snake charmer…you gaze into the maw with not just acceptance of your fate but bliss...)"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The French cultural megamarket FNAC has launched a music download service. 1 euro a track, 10 for an album (regardless of number of tracks). Files are 192 kbps WMAs, that you can burn 7 times and transfer 5 times each. The transfer limit is clearly a major sticking point, but the catalogue makes it an interesting possibility, especially for double albums or albums with 4-5 tracks. I'm also thinking of signing up to emusic.

I know I said I'd never buy downloads, but that was before I was offered an iRiver H10 for my birthday and my life was revolutionised.

Monday, November 28, 2005

llop borja update

What do you know: a Llop Borja website. The concert you can download from there dates back to march and isn't nearly as incendiary as the one I saw a few weeks ago. I haven't listened to the other stuff yet.

Free jazz big band - 27/11/2005, Brussels

By the time I got to the F#, they were out of the quiche that had so enhanced the Llop Borja concert and the orange juice was of a different brand... The room was full of twentysomething musicians (and so smoky by the end of the night that my eyes were stinging). I did somehow manage to find a dancer to talk to during the break.

This was the premiere of a new experiment: 3 conductors led a hirsute congregation (2 flutes, 2 singers, 2 pianists on one piano, violin, cello, all sitting on chairs in a semi-circle; 4 saxophones, percussion, double bass, drums and occasional guitar). The conductors subbed in and out, sometimes double- or triple-teaming the band. The result was a mash-up of jazz/free jazz, groove, cacophony, weirdness and vocal elucubrations. The shorter and much weaker second set ended with a sort of classical chorale, but I thought they could have done with more classical moments. It was interesting seeing the jazz players take control of their own destiny when they felt the conductor's grip slacken. A particular highlight was watching the bass player put down his instrument, step out front and deliver a jaw-dropping collection of vocal noises and exclamations. If my concert recording listenable, I'll be sure to post that moment. I imagine that this kind of thing was going on a lot in New York's Loft and Downtown scenes back in the '70s and '80s, so it was great to witness it here.

Organiser Clément hadn't even finished declaring "That's it. Thanks for coming. And for staying." When the big band's irrepressible drummer ferociously kicked off the jam session. Compared to jams at which it takes five minutes to settle on a tune, musicians are sluggish to get on stage and you hear chorus after bland chorus, this was a breath of fresh air. No tunes, just a constant jostling between soloists and accompaniment, hard-blowing and driving, then suddenly dropping down for a bass solo or sax duet, building up an impromptu group riff, a direction being shattered as a new participant boisterously jumped in. It was like a very, very rag-tag Brotherhood of Breath.

I knew maybe one or two of the musicians, which was great: I felt like I had stumbled upon this incredible and unsuspected cache of young musicians who were willing to play this ragged, adventurous, fun, catastrophic, lively music. If every sunday is like this one, the F# is definitely the place to be to close out week.

citizen jazz: back in the saddle

CJ has been going on its way very nicely without me for about a year, but I'm back:

Lafayette Gilchrist - The Music According To
A heavy, almost military, funk base, swinging trumpets, skronky sax, Andrew Hill-esque pianism (Gilchrist) and full-bodied arrangements: the album's not perfect (a little too monochrome, a terrible piano), but still compelling and rather original.

Hendrik Braeckman - 'til now
The Belgian guitarist's debut. Very nice arrangements, a few nice tunes, interesting style from the leader, Bert Joris and Kurt Van Herck do their thing, but it's still uneven: the studio band gels only about half the time.

Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw & Madeline Bell - Tribute To Ray Charles
Not particularly essential, but fun anyway: Dutch big band + American vocalist swing into Ray Charles's repertoire.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

25/11/2005: today was a good day

Update: the broken Darius Milhaud link has been fixed

Winter's first snow. How pretty. It snowed all day friday, and all night, and into saturday morning. I've never seen it snow so much in the four years I've been here. It was enough to discourage IVN and I from going to the Sounds to see Ben Sluijs's quartet after the Lenine concert.

lunch & midday classical
I had practically no money, so was condemned to wolf down the cafetaria's 0.15 euro asparagus soup that I hate. Thankfully, that was offset by a big, unexpected and amazingly delicious chunk of 0.55 euro frangipane. Thank the Belgian public sector for the ridiculously low prices.

After the quick lunch, I went to see classical pianist Thérèse Malengreau perform a programme of short early 20th century pieces at the Bibliothèque Royale before approximately 140 senior citizens and a handful of non-senior citizens. One piece I particularly liked was Darius Milhaud's "Trois Rag-Caprices, no. 2: Romance" from 1922 (listen to it), whose simple, warm chords reminded me of Jef Neve's "It's Gone."

at the FNAC

I initially went with to get the trio of new old concert recordings that everyone seems to consider essential: Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945; Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall; John Coltrane One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note. Fortunately/Unfortunately I also came across Andrew Hill's Andrew!!! at 9 euros and Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys at 8, and couldn't pass them up. To cap it all off, Brad Mehldau Trio Day Is Done tugged irresistably at me: mid-priced and I hadn't bought anything of his later than Art of the Trio Vol.4. Oh wait, I bought the solo Live in Tokyo just a few weeks ago. Anyway, the change of drummer (Rossy out, Ballard in) has done the music a world of good.


I never win anything. Until now: I won two tickets to this concert thanks to Vazy! (see sidebar). Granted, a lot was lost by not being able to understand the lyrics. Granted, the concert got better and better as Lenine moved from a fairly bland pop-rock template and rocked harder and popped less. Granted, there were lots of (pretty) Brazilians (girls) and Brasil-sympathisers, who eventually got up to dance on the sides (one bold soul even twice scrambled onto the stage to dance, after which two staff members blocked the steps leading to it). Still, I wasn't all that taken with the music. The Vinicius Cantuaria concert was infinitely more interesting and seductive. There was a song that juxtaposed "Dolores" and "dolares." I wonder what that was about.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

jazz and blogs #3

History: #1 #2


Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
A composer, his thoughts and his big band's live mp3s. Check it out if you're interested in the Gil Evans/Bob Brookmeyer/Maria Schneider lineage.

Pianist Jessica Williams's The Zone
Excellent, hard-hitting stuff, especially when detailling the gender discrimination that makes making a living playing jazz even harder than it already is.

A French bassist who plays with a lot of interesting people and writes interesting confessions. A translation of a concise and interesting thought (translation mine): "Here's a musician [Enrico Pieranunzi] who's found his folklore. We Europeans have to imagine and take up that place hidden somewhere between the intimidating afro-American culture and that which resonates and reasons (résonne et raisonne) in our vallies. It's in this space between assimiliation and affirmation that our language is to be found, somewhere..."

A West Coast trumpeter.

Podcasts and mp3s:

Robin Eubanks, DD Jackson, Portland Jazz Jams
Get them from the iTunes Music Store podcasts section. Check out Pere Soto on Portland Jazz Jams, a rather idiosyncratic guitarist.

Bending Corners
Monthly music podcasts.

Gunter likes french fries
Subtitled "jazz + mp3." So that tells you what you need to know.

From the armchair:

Night After Night
Not that Steve Smith, the Other Steve (Smith). Not just or even mainly about jazz, but so what.

Top Ten Sources for Jazz
I just discovered I'm a part of it... thanks! to whoever is responsible for that.

Batteur Online
Kind of a Bagatellen-like hybrid format led by the incomparable Férid Bannour and slanted towards drummers.

I've linked to this before? And so what if I have? And how many times will "so what" appear in this post? *

Jazz and politics. Both are well-thought out (no rants, thankfully). See his awesome dissection and reassembly of the latest round of rioting in France.

Spiced Tea & Letters
Dreams and jazz.

I don't know if there'll be much more content, but what's there is kind of interesting.


Echoes From Manhattan
Not even a blog, but so what? The series of videos explore the downtown Manhattan scene, with some usual suspects (Eskelin, Hollenbeck, Speed) and some less so. Yeah, the format is something of a pain, but it's worthwile.

* Five times.

out 'n' in

David Valdez has a really interesting post on inside/outside playing, which has been extended by the equally interesting comments of Jason DuMars.

From saturday 3rd of December 11PM to sunday 7AM, RTBF 2 will be having a "Jazz Night." Complete details.

The programming is all-new from 11PM to 3AM, at which time a new version of the already-broadcast Django Awards will be shown, followed until 7AM by reruns. I'm not sure if jazz fans are supposed to be grateful about this. It's almost impossible to a) watch the whole thing in one sitting, b) avoid falling asleep and c) record 6 consecutive hours without changing the tape. Complaining is futile: I'm starting a project of my own to improve be.jazz's audiovisual situation. More about that as it comes together.

Bettye Lavette - I've Got My Own Hell To Raise

I've Got My Own Hell To Raise

Enough time has passed for me to listen to I've Got My Own Hell To Raise as an experience separate from the concert.

I could talk all day about the rampaging Joy, the myriad nuances LaVette condenses into Down To Zero, the utter despair of a passionless relationship in Just Say So, the appropriateness of On The Surface's medium groove and the fabulous production work on Little Sparrow and Sleep To Dream, LaVette's forceful swing that invigorates a somewhat workman-like How Am I Different, the multi-layered guitars and fuzzy keyboards on Only Time Will Tell and finally the unstoppable triumph (and hint of a hip hop tinge) of the closing Sleep To Dream. But I won't. Just get the album.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Jazzisfaction & more - 19/11/2005, Brussels

We, IVN, visiting Londoner M and I, walked into the Archiduc around 6 PM as the band was starting up the last tune of the first set. I saw an electric bass and heard a jazz-funk groove. Sure, trumpeter/leader Peer Baierleen was there, but I doubted whether this really was Jazzisfaction. I then got roped into buying a Kriek Girardin. A tip: if given the opportunity, don't. 6 euros for not much return on investment.

After the break, I listened to the concert from the U-shaped balcony. It was an odd but excellent vantage point: I was directly above pianist Ewout Pierreux's hands and could see Peer's hands and fluegelhorn/trumpet, but not the rest of his body. The Archiduc small enough that a relatively good-time band like Jazzisfaction isn't overwhelmed by the ambient conversation levels, especially from my balcony perch. Peering out over the rail, I could even make out the bass solos well enough. So the atmosphere was nice and lively, and the band ebullient. Jazzisfaction released their debut CD, Issues, a few years ago, a highly recommended mix of delicate and atmospheric jazz that bursts into surprisingly solid grooves from time to time. Pierreux masterfully juggles between piano and Fender Rhodes.

Afterwards, we went to a Japanese restaurant, a first for me. It was, iirc, Sakura in the Halles St. Géry quarter. If you're hungry, I recommend the Maki menu: 18 bite-size fish 'n' rice rolls (the menu claims 12, so maybe I benefitted from some kind of mix-up), for 15 euros. Still later, we headed out to Fol Le Goupil. That bar/restaurant's oddities are almost too numerous to list: several small, low-ceilinged rooms spread out on several floors and strewn with sofas, walls hung with innumerable paintings, statues here and there, the place must be in tourist guides, as it was full of young tourists, they only serve their own rather particular cocktails and the boss gives off a decidedly strange aura. All in all, I think we gave M a nice vista of Brussels.

Friday, November 18, 2005

foiled in search of the Belgian dream; one too many laughs and way too much ice cream

I should have seen it coming: for the last few weeks, the morning trains to Brussels have had between 5 and 25 minutes delay practically every single day.

The plan was to go home, skip Dutch class and take the 8:28 train to go see Amina Figarova at the new Palace Music club. I stepped aboard the 5:04 at Brussels-Central. We passed Brussels-Midi and ground to a halt around Forest-East. Eventually, we were informed that a train ahead of us had broken down. We started moving again. Then stopped outside Rhode-Saint-Génèse. For a very long time. The ventilation system cut out, half the lights died, but the electric doors still worked. A conductor came by to inform us that a 20 kilometre-long section of the electric grid had given out. Seven trains were stuck without power, which I would estimate to be carrying around 4,000 people. Weirdly, no announcements were made over the PA system, which suggests that the conductors have no way of informing all passengers simultaneously in case of an emergency. All sorts of ideas were evoked: heading back to Brussels, being evacuated onto another train on the other track, being dragged by a diesel locomotive, one person was reported to have fled the train - against conductors' orders - and gained RSG on foot. Some passangers feared suffocation. Personally, my left buttock is kind of sore. Miraculously, we started moving again.

We stopped at Waterloo and a few people got off, which was puzzling, as this train wasn't supposed to stop there, so what were they doing on the train in the first place? At my stop, masses disembarked, far more than usual, their confidence in the rail system clearly shaken. Understandably: by that time, it was 8:50 and Amina was a distant memory. If you missed her, or even if you didn't, I recommend her album September Suite or, better yet, the Live in Amsterdam DVD, both out on Munich Records. The content of the DVD will apparently be broadcast, to quote her website, "On Dutch TV: Nederland 3 NPS Output Monday November 21, 2005 at 24.00."

Normally, when I get home, I'll work out a bit and attempt to limit my strong urge to eat all night long. I felt harassed and deserving of comfort, however, so I skipped the exercise and wolfed down the remaining halves of two packs of crisps and vast amounts of melted-chocolate covered vanilla ice cream. Also watched trafic.musique on France 2 and saw the pretty Chistopher Stills, the transatlantic son of Stephen Stills and Véronique Samson (who also sang on the show), play a very pretty song about California and French hip hop group Saïan Supa Crew display mind-blowing flow over some excellent beat-boxing. All that after Envoyé Spécial and its investigations of the incredibly poor housing conditions in Paris (not the suburbs) for low-income immigrants and on a fundamentalist Muslim terrorist/freedom fighter organisation in the Philippines. A pretty stimulating evening.

Another TV notable: an innovative car ad. Cars used to be fast, safe, comfortable, eco-friendly or cheap. In France's troubled socio-economic context, Toyota has decided to add employment-friendly to the list. The ad for their new Yaris doesn't talk about the car at all, but about the 1,000 jobs they created to build it. I don't know if it's an efficient selling-point, but it's one I'd certainly never seen advertised before.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

relive the madness

Remember the Balkan Beat Box concert I saw? They're in town again and if you're not doing anything (like going to the Motives Festival to see, among others, the fantastically rocking Acoustic Ladyland (ignore their name)), I suggest you hand over the 10 euros and enter the Beursschouwburg.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


After the midday concert, I went to see Tarkovsky's Solaris at the Musée du Cinéma (two museums in one day (a work day, no less), a record!

My first Tarkovsky, my first visit to the museum, which I imagined a haven for hardcore movie fans. It all started out rather farcically. There was a massive line (around 60 people, I heard) who had not yet bought tickets (I had bought mine the previous day), I think pretty much all of them were turned away. I had to engage in a ridiculous haggling session to actually get in, because of my lack of knowledge of the museum's arcane ticketing policy. A few attendees couldn't remain quiet for 165 minutes. The image quality was fairly poor: at one point, black lines threatened to cancel out the images entirely. A woman at the back sanctimoniously declared (during the film) "Mobile phones aren't allowed" to which the target's partner replied "Yes, he's trying to turn it off." Through all this, there was a film going on and I was fighting to stay awake. IVN lost the battle utterly and slept through most of it. I struggled early on but then was fully alert and was left pretty much baffled.

I don't think I understood very much. I haven't read the book, but I have seen Soderbergh's version (since George Clooney is in it, it was inevitable that IVN would rent it). The opening shot is great, as it seems to say that the story's main character is no more important than an underwater plant or any other part of the decor. Thus, when the camera starts following his movements and gaze in a more traditional manner, it's kind of a shock. There are a few easy-to-grasp philosophical pronouncements (on man's relationship to space exploration, for example, which is totally true if you think of the mirror-to-humanity role aliens play in, say, Star Trek). But mainly, I'm unsure who some of the characters are (Kelvin's mother? The woman with his father? Berton?) and not much more certain of what happened and what it was about. I spent a lot of the "empty" moments wondering if I found it fantastic or an utter waste of my time (there's a room at home I need to paint). It could go either way, I really don't know. Maybe it'll come into focus over the next few days. Links to explanatory articles are welcome. Tonight I intend to go see the World Saxophone Quartet play Jimi Hendrix. I expect the questions, answers and point to be infinitely easier to grasp.

And what's up with the horse?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sébastien Texier & Michel Debrulle - 15/11/2005, Brussels

Up on the fifth floor of the Musée des Instruments de Musique, like when I saw Listen Trio. It's a great room, comfortable movie-theater-like folding chairs, a dozen rows of terraced seating and no amplification necessary. If only more people would come to these midday concerts (we were twenty, maybe slightly more, in a room that could easily hold over one hundred), it would be the most intimate venue in Brussels. Still, down in the first row it isn't too bad.

Sébastien (son of Henri) Texier started out on alto saxophone playing warm, long-note melodies. Throughout the 50 minute-long concert, he would alternate between this and more violently passionate modes that brushed with free jazz and Gypsy and Arabic musics. Along with his alto, he brought a regular clarinet and an alto clarinet, which went sadly unplayed. On the concert-ending "Trois dans quatre" he blew a rambuctious storm that evoked a particularly lively Storyville-era dive in a totally unnostalgic way. Like there was some New Orleans buried deep in the music's DNA.

Michel Debrulle got lots of chances to play the totally unacademic funk he's showcased so on brilliant albums by Trio Grande and Rêve d'Eléphant Orchestra (on De Werf). It's a messy collection of grooves halfway between the carnaval parade and the junkyard. In his many solo spots, he'd build up tottering yet infectious patterns, while when accompanying Texier, he'd orchestrate transitions between composition and improvisation, or between songs, as when he rubbed a woodblock across a drumhead long enough for the reedman to pick up the horn he needed.

There were deliciously delicate moments too, as when they played a stripped-down version of what I think was "Un chat sur le toit:" Texier sounded out the sad and beautiful melody without needing to decorate it further, Debrulle played the a skeletal 7/8 beat on brushes and hummed the melody at the same time. Thus reduced to its simplest expression, the song could open up to sparse, piercing alto cries.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

birthday in a be. mode

One the most delightful Belgian traditions, in fact, maybe the most delightful Belgian tradition, which has been observed at both places I've worked here so far, is that of offering your colleagues pralines on your birthday. Even people you don't know and have never spoken to will stretch that magical golden, ingot-shaped box in your direction. Few things light up a workday like the unexpected reception of a few grammes of Leonidas.

My birthday (the 27th) is tomorrow, but it's on a bank holiday (Armistice Day, which explains my peaceable nature) and I didn't want to miss the occasion, so I did the rounds of the 30-odd people on my part of the second floor. I'll be doing another with the far less numerous members of my evening Dutch class. In all, one kilogramme (and 16 euros) of happiness brought (briefly) into the world.

Flagey do Brasil #2: Orfeu Negro / Vinicius Cantuária Quartet - 10/11/2005, Brussels

I wonder what it was like to see Orfeu Negro back in 1959, when it came out. There are the omnipresent samba rhythms, the vivid colours, the in-your-faceness of the characters, the carnaval (which makes the lead characters' mythical baggage seem commonplace: their neighbours dress up as Versailles-era courtisans, the morgue scene hints at other dramas played out that same night), the rampant sexuality, the two kids scurrying around frantically, the beauty of the melody of "Manha de carneval," Breno Mello's awesome virility that allows him to pull off the gold Spartacus look, the beauty of Eurydice and Mira, the gap-toothed masses. It must have been quite a shock. But there's also the slightly disjointed plot, the hint of condescension (the people dancing as the ferry backs into the port) and, in this particular case, the haphazard subtitles that were often hard to read and went missing altogether when the translator deemed the dialogue tangential to the main plot.

Vinicius Cantuária - g, voc
Michael Leanhardt - tp, elec, perc
Paul Socolow - el b
Paulo Braga - d

Cantuária had even more trouble filling Studio 4 than Hermeto Pascoal (aka Flagey do Brasil #1), so the ushers asked those of us in the cheap seats to move forward. As is sometimes the case, the absentees missed a magnificent concert full of music to drift and dream to, where the odd xylophone note rang out and seemed miraculous. The only thing they didn't miss was the fifth member of what was billed as a quintet, as the percussionist didn't show up.

I remember reading in an interview (maybe with Caetano Veloso) that Brazilians tend to have a more amateur approach to music than, say, Cubans. That feeling came through in Cantuária's classic bossa nova-limited-male-crooner voice and the particularly laid-back and effortless atmosphere the music created. However, it took a lot of precision and cleverness to sustain the illusion. Leanhardt was incredibly attuned to the leader's voice: Cantuária would sing at a barely-audible volume and draw mere sketches of melody; Leanhardt amplified the voice, filled in the colors and shaded the lines, remaining supremely lyrical throughout and at just the right volume.

The grooves varied between samba-based early-70s-style jazz-rock (helped along by Leanhardt's discrete sampler effects, Socolow's oscilloscope squiggles and Cantuária's prolonged chords), a creampuff light hand-rub rhythm that accompanied a spare rendition of "Corcovado," bossa nova and others I don't know the names of. They got heavier at times: a dancing Afro-rhythm, a slow straight-eight back-beat that wanted to be a shuffle.

The general quietness distorted aural perspective: towards the end, when Cantuária sang at "normal" volume, he seemed to be belting. Similarly, you could almost be forgiven for not noticing the guitarist's solos: the delicate lines, occasional harmonic suprises and plucked chords tended to be eclipsed by, or, perhaps, hide behind, the bass riff. During the well-deserved second encore, Leanhardt created a very cool fake-electronic effect by whistling the xylophone notes he was playing. Cantuária had the crowd trade vocalese with him and Braga before sending us off into the peaceful night.

ROVA / Casimir Liberski - 08/11/2005, Brussels

[Note: this entry was written on the 9th]

The PP Café started an odd festival last night. Casimir Liberski's solo concert was free, ROVA's cost 9 euros, tomorrow the pattern repeats and for the next few days, all concerts are free. Also, there was very little publicity: the festival wasn't even listed on their website until very recently. That and the higher-than-usual price (9 euros instead of 5) may explain the pitiful turnout for ROVA. The room wasn't even half-full (even the optimistic version sounds glum). In the not-so-distant past they were turning people away from the Liebman/Eskelin Quartet and the Grimes/Crispell/Cyrille concert was packed, so it's not about the music's difficulty.

I'd been seeing pianist Casimir Liberski's name in the concert listings a lot in the last year or so and reports touted him as a 17 year old prodigy. He certainly does play well and makes interesting repertoire choices: excellent renditions of "Lonely Woman" and "I Mean You," a Don Cherry African folk tune, a fragmented Edith Piaf song (of which only the "Quand il me prend dans ses bras" part subsisted). Not everything came off equally well - the Cherry tune, essentially one scale over a vamp, sounded amateurish and limited rather than fun and dancey - but I was encouraged when, having started "Blue Monk," when inspiration flagged he didn't hesitate to segue into a stream of songs I didn't know or couldn't remember in a Jarrett-like folksy style. "I Mean You" was swinging, bluesy, full-bodied and took some liberties so as to break up the flow. Interestingly, Casimir has also scored the film Bunker Paradise, directed by his father Stefan (who is, apparently, fairly well-known in Belgium).

ROVA is hard to do justice to in words, as its music is like nothing I've heard elsewhere, apart from the first time I saw them and the CD of their's I have. This singularity not because ROVA is a saxophone quartet: it's fairly common to make conventional music with (or despite) unconventional instrumentation. Maybe the official blurb says enough:

"Positioning themselves at music's most dynamic nexus, Rova has become an important leader in the movement of genre-bending music that has its roots in post-bop free jazz, avant-rock, and 20th century new music as well as traditional and popular styles of Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. With its potent mix of stellar musicianship and compositional creativity, Rova explores the synthesis of composition and collective improvisation."

Yeah, it's a bit dry, but that's more or less it. Collectively, they play the entire spectrum of jazz saxophone sounds: Jon Raskin might croon some near-verbatim Hawkins/Young/Mulligan over wind-rustling-in-the-trees accompaniment, Bruce Ackley can similarly seduce with vintage film noir tenor saxophone virile ballad-playing or blow Balkan-influenced soprano fury, but Larry Ochs will unleash full-throated free jazz skronk and Steve Adams might just play one of the most incredible jazz/free/post solos you've ever heard.

The overall impression is one of absolute balance. The compositions are equal partners with the improvisations, with the individual musicians and with another distinctive element, the hand signals that reshape the music on the fly. The ensemble might sail easy, flowing waters for one piece, then plunge down treacherous rapids where everything happens at once and rocks jut out at awkward angles the next. Mingus, theater, Don Van Vliet, contemporary music, precisely constructed cacophony and space exploration form a cohesive whole that is at once rigourous and supple, demanding and cajoling. Amongst the weirder moments was Scott Adams's "Anomalous Ejectae," inspired by maps of Mars showing the paths of the robots currently on its surface and whose score resembled a collection of experiment results printouts.

Monday, November 07, 2005

'round midnight or tonight at noon

The 2005 Belgian Django d'Or awards ceremony will be broadcast saturday 12th at midnight and sunday 13th at noon on RTBF 2.

Friday, November 04, 2005

a noisy silence

Doug Ramsey refers me to what Bob Brookmeyer writes:

"The Jazz Standard is a very fine place and the people who work there are unfailingly gentle and helpful. However, they -- and all jazz clubs -- suffer from the fear of silence. The minute we stop playing, ON comes the music from somewhere, and it won't stop until we get on the stand -- sometimes not even then. It's an established tradition and a vile one... The pauses between performing are very important and should be treated as part of the evenings flow. The fear of quiet is growing and it is a dangerous trend -- people have to shout to be heard, so inflection and communication get lost."

I can but agree 100%. I feel that going to hear live music is a special experience and one that best arises out of the relative silence of pre-concert chitchat brouhaha and best sinks in (when the music was good enough that you want to let it sink in) in a muted post-concert daze.

Live music immediately bookended by recorded music is a steadily increasing occurence, unfortunately. I was really stunned at the Hermeto Pascoal concert, to hear piped music before an after the concert in what is a sophisticated concert hall. The point of music played explicitly to be talked over escapes me, especially in a dedicated hall.

At the AB Club, the informal atmosphere is more conducive to recorded music, but more importantly they have a real DJ, so the musical choices are more inspired and appropriate than mindlessly putting on Blue Train, for example. Still, a 5-minute buffer zone before (to instill a sense of occasion) and after (to finish absorbing and emerge from what was just heard) would be nice. Constant music gives the live bit a "oh, some more music" feeling.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bettye Lavette - 02/11/2005, Brussels

Doors to the AB's upstairs Club opened at 7, the concert was supposed to start at 8. The guitarist, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Frank Zappa, quietly slipped onto the still-dark stage at around 8:30. The drummer followed a few minutes later. Then came the bassist, unhurried. The keyboardist was stealthy, I didn't notice his entrance. He looked like a scientist, so maybe that was normal. At 8:45, the band launched into an amiable groove driven by Meters-ish organ, and followed up with a jazz-tinged (piano, bass, chords) blues propelled by a powerful and unusual beat. Two instrumentals to warm up, and the FZ-lookalike asked us to welcome the evening's diva, Mrs. Bettye Lavette. Downstairs, many more people had paid twice as much money to see Sioen, the Flemish sophisto-pop singer/pianist of the day. It took only a few words from Mrs. Lavette to prove that they were at the wrong concert.

I was here mainly because of a highly laudatory NY Times review of the singer's new CD, I've Got My Own Hell To Raise, and also because opportunities to see real, old-school soul in an intimate setting are rare. I had high hopes; they were fulfilled: this will be a contender for concert of the year. Lavette sang about how "Joe Henry made a woman out of [her]" at the age of 16 in her backyard, an amusing, inside-joke anachronism (Henry, 44, produced the "nearly 60 years old" singer's new album), about male betrayals and their aftermaths ("I'm not a sparrow/I'm a broken dream"), about the paradox of female strength ("It's not a time to cry," she said, as her voice cracked), about resilience, acceptance and finding peace in a final, heart-breaking a capella song.

Bettye Lavette's frayed, treble-heavy voice was that of classic, raw, heart-on-sleeve soul. Vibratoless and melisma-free, she gave the impression of an unadorned truth. Of course, the greatest trick a performer can pull is to make you believe there are no tricks. I often got the weird impression of her voice coming off a vinyl record, especially when she suddenly overwhelmed and saturated the microphone. Whether screwing up her face or prancing triumphantly across the stage, the singer threw herself unreservedly into every song and every nuance. She ruled and defended her territory, not hesitating to slap an annoyingly boisterous member of the audience. The music went from Al Green/Willie Mitchell achingly slow and minimal 12/8 to funky one-bar black-rock vamps. In short, nearly every tune was a phenomenal performance. I bought the CD and if it's half as good as the concert (I haven't listened to it yet), then it's a must-buy.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Frédéric Alice Orpheus

A strong, modern soulful voice, coming from the chest but climbing into the throat and wobbling into falsetto, an accomplished student of music (New England Conservatory) and multi-instrumentalist (piano, violin, guitar...), an interest in jazz and contemporary music. It's good stuff, check out the mp3s: there's no album yet, so there's no commercial afterthought. "When I Came Down To Earth," voice/guitar/viola, reminds me of the best of Chocolate Genius. With the Blue Medusa Trio, FAO mixes a live, acoustic jazz aesthetic with soul accessibility. the website's in french, but the lyrics are in english

AKA Moon - 29/10/2005, Brussels

I hadn't seen AKA Moon in a few years. The small, familiar Sounds stage is perhaps the best place in town to catch them. The music seemed to go back through its own history: starting with music that seemed more recent, ending with the usual, joyful medley of old hits, via Michel Hatzigeorgiou's classic real-time self-sampling bass solo. The contrast showed how Fabrizio Cassol had matured as a composer: from sequences of percussive, hooky riffs to much longer structures. It's interesting to hear fairly advanced composition arrived at through the prism of jazz/funk/rock, improvisation, complex rhythmic/metric forms and a band sound, rather than through a more abstract harmonic view. And you can hear all that while, quite simply, rocking out to one of the greatest reasons to be proud to be Belgian (um, I'm not Belgian).

As luck would have it, we sat at the same table as the guy who founded the Kaai (as well as an actress/musician with beautiful brown eyes), the now-mythical venue which closed in 1995 after having seen the birth of AKA Moon and brought together a whole generation of musicians. Bo Van Der Werf had told me about playing there, blowing a solo, then stepping off stage to pour someone a beer. Etienne recounted a particular highlight: Lenny Kravitz taking a taxi from Amsterdam to Brussels to arrive at the Kaai after 1AM and proceed to jam 'til 7.

The Django d'Or ceremony was held last night: congratulations, Pascal! (even though I was sure Jef would win).

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hat; Hermeto Pascoal; Llop Borja - 28/10/2005, all over Brussels


Walking is good for you. It's not like I had a choice: the second general strike this month paralysed the city's public transportation system. I walked from Gare Centrale to the end of Antoine Dansaert. Along the way, I discovered Episode, a cool second-hand clothes shop on rue de la Violette. Inside, I fell in love with a hat. 10 euros. I couldn't resist: it's looser-fitting, less rigid and lower on the head than my first hat. It's also brown, rather than black. I carried on to the end of Antoine Dansaert, which evolves from renowned boutiques (Olivier Strelli) to more underground boutiques (Y-Dress) to dusty Moroccan neighbourhood. The people on the street dress accordingly. Right at the end there's an urban art gallery. They were debuting a new show, but I got there too early and didn't feel like hanging around. I'll go another time. I walked from there to Flagey. It took a while, but it's a great trip. Back up Dansaert and Violette (there's a funky bar there called Le Goupil Fol, I think. Also stopped off in a fun little deco shop) and Gare Centrale, up the expensive-chic rue de Namur that runs behind the Royal Palace (past Kenzo and the second men's cosmetics shop of the day, the first being fairly far down Dansaert. I'd never seen one before. Maybe I'd been waiting for that bus and didn't know it?) across the petite ceinture to Porte de Namur down Chaussée d'Ixelles and appetising and affordable sushi restaurant with a black robe-clad Japanese man behind the counter. Just as I get to Café Belga (right in front of Flagey) I bump into Jazzques. We chat and meet some friends of his. Bizarrely, they're all French, so the franco-belgian ration shoots up to 4:1.

Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo

Hermeto Pascoal strides jauntily down the steps of Flagey's Studio 4, salutes the cheering public and launches into semi-classical piano. Busy, animated by an agitated tenderness, full of improbable chord sequences and voicings. A few minutes later, the rest of the band comes down the steps, the maestro gets up and leaves. The band start up and the initial euphoria wears off quickly. The mix is awful, but gets progressively better. More problematic is the music itself: a sort of Brazilian fusion, it's dense and hard-hitting, but also relentless and cold. The saxophonist's sound is hard and pinched. I liked him only on flute, where he became warmer and more generous. The pianist (Pascoal stuck to synth and vocals for the rest of the night) was a tense ball of nervous energy, sometimes impressive, but rarely endearing. Clearly, though, the band was playing its leader's music: tightly controlled and precise. When the 70 minute concert ended, I didn't demand more, but the rest of the crowd did. It was a good thing they did.

Pascoal starts the encore with a brief bit of crowd participation. Suddenly, the music is dancey and light, with hints of calypso and latin jazz coming through. The saxophonist abandons austerity in favour of ebulliance. Pascoal goes into a totally wild synth solo: at first he's singing along to the electronic line, but ends up screaming and shouting. The second encore is marked by the pianist playing alone, lots of ornementation, heavily-struck rhythm and ranging up and down the keyboard, making the rare moment of simplicity startling. The last 30 or so minutes easily top what came before (apart from the Iron Age pipe-organ Pascoal concocted out of the five members of his band and ten hollow metal tubes of varying lengths. One in either hand, they tapped out melodies and rhythms on the ground. Delightful.). Music is a game of two halves, they say.

Llop Borja

Erik Bogaerts - as
Clément Nourry - g,
Frederic Jacques - b
Lionel Beuvens - d
Nicolas Kummert - ts

Jacques and I head out to the Alambic in the former's car. We walk in as Bogaerts is in the middle of a searing free-leaning-bop-over-walking-bass-led-rhythm-section solo. I love that kind of thing and I get the impression that not a lot of people here play like that. Bruno Vansina, maybe. I'd never even heard of Bogaerts, it only took a few seconds for him to let me know that I'd been missing something. And he confirmed that impression throughout the concert.

The quartet's other soloist, Clément Nourry, is someone I've been friendly with for years, but had never really seen play. Sometimes, the situation can be awkward, when you end up not really liking the person's playing. This time, it was almost awkward how much I fell in love with it. Notably, soloing on Coltrane's "Wise One," after a brief Bogaerts intro that had cast a deep spiritual spell and spun a few dervish whirls, Nourry caressed twisted harmonies (he's done some studying and playing with Pierre Van Dormael), slipped into more mainstream jazz lines and then back out before ending with an oriental twist. As the hazy theme re-emerged, he accompanied with plucks that sounded like signals from outer space. All this without sounding random or even eclectic. Phenomenal. More than honourable mentions for an oud-influenced intro and a raging solo on top of horn riffs, like LlB had turned into a soul band.

Along with Jacques's steady grooves and Beuvens's alternately out-and-out motorik or subtle playing, the whole concert was a galvanising shock to the system on the scale of the one I got the first time I saw the Pascal Schumacher Quartet: exciting jazz played energetically and that sounds young and now.

Add to all that the great venue: endearingly shambolic organisation, great food (the quiche is a must) and great prices (a euro for a glass of delicious bio orange juice - I've been avoiding alcohol when I go out, of late -, barely more than that for beer).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

impressionable youth

Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (again) on the train in the morning on an empty stomach, a fat middle-aged couple in black track suits from Charleroi or thereabouts playing cards - well, not middle-aged because their skin is too smooth and baby-pink for that - to my right, a flock of birds to my left across the aisle that turns out to be a ringtone, is all very strange.

Last night, lying in bed in the dark, it struck me that I needed an XML configuration file; this morning as I went through the slow morning rituals the solution to the months-long question of what to paint my computer/music/book room was revealed: a Mondrian wall. Admittedly, I'd watched a show on the contemporary art market the evening before. If you can't afford 'em ($8 million), make 'em. But which wall? Behind the computer or on the one with the chimney facing the door, for a cool 3-D effect? Will this project go the way of the long-planned CD shelf?

Do you see the pattern?

Friday, October 21, 2005

gentle shifts south

It's happened again. Or rather, what had happened has been reversed. It was inevitable, really. Monumental, but uncommented upon, or, if commented upon, only the symptoms were mentioned, not the cause.

A few weeks ago - the exact date is difficult to determine - Brussels shifted several hundred kilometers south. The massive displacement was instantaneous and imperceptible to all sentient creatures, yet its effects were plain. Solid blue skies belied the city's (unjust) reputation, the people basked and were happy, flowers bloomed, thinking it was spring.

It's raining today: the city has returned to its original latitude, the imbalance has been righted. It was inevitable, really.

* title provided by Jason Moran

Thursday, October 20, 2005

pretty totty; what's up, dog?

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: popped my W & G cherry last night, it splattered in glorious claymation style. Funny, a bit lightweight plot-wise but very smart and full of delicious details/winks/nudges/references and, of course, superbly executed.


There was an animated short before the main feature, about the penguins from Madagascar. I haven't seen Madagascar, must rent it some day. The short Pixar did for The Incredibles was more awesomely unexpected/good/psychedelic, but the penguin christmas movie was good. Speaking of The Incredibles, Michael Giacchino's music for the Alias season premiere struck me as particularly good. Lots of Lost-ian sparse suspenseful plucks 'n' things, of course, but also a very welome touch of the jazzy big band that worked so well for The Incredibles. Of course, it didn't hurt that Alias seems to have plunged headlong back into Season 3 long-plot complexity, rather than Season 4 one-shot portraiture.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

crowd gathers on be.jazz scene

My good friend (whom I haven't seen in far too long!) started a blog this month, Jazzques. It's about time, as he'll be able to give you day-to-day be.jazz tidbits far better than I have been able to. His succint concert and CD reviews are full of a Jacques adoration of and sense of wonder for music. Plus, he's far more inclined to staying up well into the early hours, drinking with the musicians, than I am, despite my being a decade-plus younger. His drinking stories are legendary! Of course, it's all in French, but it's never too late to learn.

Happy birthday (tomorrow), my friend!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

new vocation

Yesterday I decided that when I grow up, I want to be a taïkonaut, which has a better ring to it than yuhangyuan.

Monsieur Dubois ft. Joseph Bowie - 13/10/2005, Brussels

Monsieur Dubois is a Dutch sextet that plays a passable (largely) acoustic version of 90s acid jazz: acoustic double bass vamps, bossa/samba/funk/d'n'b grooves smartly stitched together by the combination of a drummer and a well-equipped percussionist (congas, bongos, timbales, small hi-hat, triangle, sundry), unremarkable soloists (keyboard, trumpet, saxophone) and melody lines drawing on hard bop.

I'd never heard trombonist Joseph Bowie and only vaguely heard of his band Defunkt, but I was pretty disappointed, after the promo and onstage hype surrounding his participation. While his speech-like blurts and occasional high-pitched exclamations made his relationship to Lester quite clear, his playing was rather limited and rarely fitted the context. The music really called for some good, greasy, Fred Wesley-type playing to really energise it, but that didn't happen.

A mediocre concert, then, but enlivened by my experimental hat-wearing. I've always found the hat-wearing men in old films cool, Jason Moran has made it his trademark, lots of rappers/singers have one on in their videos and photo shoots, so I've been thinking about getting one myself for a long time now: it's both fashionable and distinctive on the street. I bought a cheap one on saturday - black, short brim that folds up at the back - to see if I could put it on without feeling too embarassed and last night was the first time I wore it to town. Combined with my brown leather jacket and orange stripy shirt, the outfit might have been too poseur-y, but it was great fun anyway. We're going to Paris tomorrow, I'll see what the French make of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Polar Bear - 04/10/2005, Brussels

I went to the Ancienne Belgique's ABClub for the first time. Had I known earlier how nice a space it was, I'd have gone there sooner and often: small, but uncluttered (no chairs), roomy and elegant (wood floors and wall panels, semi-circle bar at the back). A rare sighting: someone else taking notes. He had a proper notebook, I had an old, folded-up bank receipt and a pen that happened to be in my jacket pocket.

Polar Bear's "Held on the Tips of Fingers" isn't a radical break with "Dim Lit" (except, perhaps, commercially, as they went from winning BBC Jazz Awards to being shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize), but does expand the band's palette, notably through the addition of Leafcutter John on laptop. On tour, the latter is billed as "featured" and performed on about half the songs. At times he used a PlayStation-type joypad to trigger sounds: in duet with drummer/leader Sebastian Rocheford, zoink!s, crashes and screeches that flew from left to right and sounded like a THX demo gone mad, or atmosphere-solidifying metallic drones behind the full band. On the CD, his contributions tend to be chiseled, here they were often wild. While that made for some satisfying wall-of-noise or frantic electronic ping-ponging moments, a little carefully-crafted clickety-click would have been welcome. In quieter moments, Leafcutter John used a microphone to sample a triangle, a bit of crinkly plastic or Tom Herbert's bass playing.

The chiseled/wild distinction also holds for the core Polar Bear unit: the CDs don't give much indication of how aggressive the band can be on stage. Polar Bear is, for me, a concious or unconcious continuation of the late 60s/early 70s guys who had grown up on hard bop, matured with free jazz and were trying to mix the two over a loose version of contemporary funk/soul grooves. The improvising of the two saxophonists make this connection clear as they tread between refined free jazz hollers and guttural bop exclamations. The other two times I've seen them, Ingrid Laubrock subbed in for Mark Lockheart, but not last night. Overall, the music was perhaps a bit tighter for it.

The quartet + 1 wound liberally through its repertoire: new songs ("I wrote this one when I woke up," Rocheford explained, without specifying whether he meant that very morning), old songs that still haven't been recorded and, of course, album tracks, the composer's sensibilities were made quite clear. Rocheford's harmonies, simple compared to those of bop's high modernists, sometimes give off a folksy feel and allow the soloists to take off in any direction. On one tune in the second set, Pete Wareham took the bass and drums into heavy, Acoustic Ladyland-ish territory, but during Lockheart's solo, he and Herbert often hinted at calypso. The bandleader's playing makes plain the lessons drummers have learnt from hip-hop/electronica producers: orchestration (how/when each kit element or sound source participates in the beat) is as crucial to the beat's identity as the rhythm itself. The melodies often call for intertwining saxophone lines: one providing a background to the other's melody here, a pleasing clash between ascending and descending motifs there. In contrast to the barn-storming solos, the themes are often melancholy, tender or worrying. That's not always the case: before the two encores that ended the concert, Polar Bear played "The King of Aberdeen," which has a fast 'n' furious two-beat (kitted out with Herbert's Mingusian shouts), one of the band's characteristic sounds.

Rocheford seems less stage-shy than he used to be, presenting a guileless persona who seems to say whatever pops into his head. Presenting a song called "Fluffy" that used to be called "I Want You," he said, almost putting the microphone down between each sentence, "It [the title] sounds like I want a cat. But I prefer dogs. I do like big cats, though. Especially leopards."

ain't sayin' nuthin'

In an effort for be.jazz not to become a "what I did today" blog, much has not been written about. However, I have thought about writing a lot of things. As a result, the line between what I've written and what I've thought is getting blurry (a Homer Simpson-ish "Did I think that or blog it?").

so, I haven't talked about last weekend's trip to London (for a friend's wedding) and sunday's trip to Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner. I'd never been, it's incredible that such a place should exist and live up to any description one could make of it. Last night my mother told me that she had visited it when she was exactly my age (I was nine months old at the time and in Paris).

I haven't talked about the 4 restaurants in the last week (3 + 1 restaurant-equivalent at the wedding): Italian (pizza) next to the EU Parlement, Turkish (no, not a kebab or durum) in London, Senegalese in Brussel's St-Gilles neighbourhood (La Cuisine de Suzanne, highly recommended). Surprisingly, my waistline (which has slimmed considerably in the last few months, something else I haven't mentioned) hasn't suffered at all from this abundance of culinary delights. The windows of bakeries (Belgian or Moroccan) and chocolatiers are calling out to me increasingly loudly, though.

I haven't talked about seeing the Dardenne brothers' L'Enfant, but will soon.

I haven't talked about Polar Bear's concert on tuesday, but will soon. Discussion of Acoustic Ladyland's Last Chance Disco has been stuck in Drafts for a while now and should also surface soon.

Something I will talk about: tomorrow there's a general strike. Since it will make it practically impossible for me to get to work (for lack of trains), I'll probably be on strike (for shortage of paid holidays) for the first time ever! A three day weekend will be nice, even if I have to pay for it myself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

be.sightings: yet another sure-to-be-short-lived category

...Bassist Sal La Rocca spotted on rue du Midi, around noon. He was, of course, wearing his distinctive visorless cap...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

doubleheader, pt. 2

As the sequence of posts does not make clear, after going to see Cinderella Man in the afternoon, I went to see Broken Flowers at night, last Sunday. Both screenings were surprisingly sparsely attended, considering they only cost 3 euros.

The film's theme song sounded like (crucially) piano-less late-60s Andrew Hill, to me. Which was good. Winston's "Ethiopian" accent was way, way off, though. On to more important matters.

The only other Jarmusch I've seen is Ghost Dog. Some of the same elements pop up: the heavy-handed metaphors, TV bringing messages, for example. BF is, however, far more formal and pared-down. The repetition-and-variation (with intro (the set-up) and coda (another variation, really)) give the film a structure somewhere between those of Rashomon and a song. The spareness leaves space for secrets, the unknown, unresolved doubts and hidden histories. The line between what can and cannot be said, and the dangers on both sides of that line, as the final old-girlfriend visit makes clear, is the one constantly being negotiated. Excellent.

man ipulation

The Man With the Movie Camera
Tuur Floorizone - acc
Laurent Blondiau - tp
Michel Massot - tba, tb

The third of Cafe Central's silent movie + live music events I've been to (the others were The General and Metropolis), but the first involving more than one musician. With one musician, the music was largely made up on the spot, but this time they had sheet music and a number of well-defined songs/themes, probably written by Tuur, as their rhythms and melodies recalled those of Tricycle.

I probably won't go to any more of these nights: the conditions are too uncomfortable (wooden chairs, flat seating, background chatter). Maybe I'm overreacting to the film. I found it really hard going. Despite the embedded mini-stories, the revealing juxtapositions and disorienting superimpositions, the intentional lack of anything to focus on fatigued me. It's a bit like cycling through TV channels, endlessly: there's repetition, progression and fortuitous encounters, but an unsatisfying lack of focus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Listen Trio - 20/09/2005, Brussels

Bendik Giske - ts, ss
Daniel herskedal - tba
Espen Berg - p

A noon concert, a concentrated 45-minute dose of music injected into the ordinary work-day, works wonders. Others take an extra cup of coffee. Or three.

The three young Norwegians won last year's Jazz Hoeilaart Competition and are in the closing stages of the resulting tour.

The trio immediately confirmed its origins: herskedal's "Norwegian Folk Tune," simple and melancholy. Berg displayed the light classical, lightly orchestral/contrapuntal, style that he would stick to, fruitfully, throughout the concert. On Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" Giske stuck to tenor, but dipped liberally into the pre-war saxophonic exuberance bag. When he softly slap-tongued a beat behind Berg's trademark damp-one-string-and-play-around-it classical-funkisms, the old tune acquired an unexpected, yet unforced, air of modernity. They returned to that exuberance at the end of the concert, but it sprang from a different source: the Balkan brass band. In a few minutes they went from driving stomp to spacious dirge and quick, blurry soprano lines to raw-throated bellows.

The group has an immediately attractive attitude. "Dr. Waadelands Vals," dedicated to a conservatory professor who wrote a PhD. detailling a mathematical formulation of swing drumming, loaded the first beat with exagerated low-register drama, before snapping to attention with staccato quarter-notes on the last two beats. At one time they threatened to slip into a too-easy ballad of North European chamber jazz modernism, with too-exacting symmetry and a feel of a perpetual sigh of faux-despair, but Berg's solo pulled them out of that mood. Here and there, surprises slipped in: a line that ascended for a bar longer than expected, for example. Overall, it remained clever but light, with an interesting lack of interest for abstraction.

Lots of mp3s are available on Listen Trio's website.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


An Angela Merkel quote excerpted from Alex Ross:

For example, I regard Lufthansa’s innovation of playing disembarkation music as no improvement on my quality of life.

Indeed. I had the same reaction to the US Open's introduction of music during changeovers. Is that really what the sport needed? And why switch songs a minute or so in? Were they streaming it from Amazon?

doubleheader, pt. 1

Cinderella Man: It's a boxing movie. It has all the heartstring-tugging clichés. Russell Crowe is as ugly as ever. His character is as flawlessly noble as ever. Renée Zellwegger is, well, herself, albeit with a vaguely American-Irish accent. There's not much to say about a movie like this. I don't know if it bears more than a passing relationship to reality. I didn't know whether or not he'd win a single fight. I liked it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

new new

Jazz in Belgium has finally unveiled a much-needed, totally modernised website. It's now a lot more functional and, I'm sure, easier to maintain. It's about time, too: it was back in 2002 or 2003 that I contacted its webmaster, Ilan Oz and suggested that I re-do the site. For reasons outside of my control, and despite Ilan's enthusiasm, that attempt got stuck. It's only when Victor Zamouline, of the defunct Jazz Valley, came onboard last year that things really got moving again. He probably navigated the waters far more expertly than I ever could. Congratulations to all and check out the site!

a saturday

Several notable landmarks can be seen as you cross Brussels south to north by train. There's the massive and excellent mural of Geluck's Le Chat, one of many comic strip characters scattered about the city. Then there's the dread Palais de Justice, which literally sits above the working-class Marolles neighbourhood, threatening crushing it with its gross, gray weight. During the Foire de Midi, the palace could be seen through the merry white bars of a ferris wheel. Past Bruxelles-Nord/Brussel-Noord, below the right-hand side of the train, there's a red-light street and its women behind windows. I used to take this northern-bound train with some frequency, but, it seems, almost never in the 2.5 years I've had a car. I feel like I should visit the street. It's less a matter of IVN being in Thailand than a mixture of Sin City and Philip K. Dick. Euro-travellers sit next to me on the train. I have no idea what language they're speaking, but their travel guide is in Spanish. I listen in, intently, and as we are close to my destination, I ask the guy opposite, in English, what language they're speaking. "Basque." Cool. He then launches into the we're-travelling-around-Europe speech, even though I had made a point of not asking him about it. He limps on and I vaguely feign interest. I have to get off now, anyway.

I arrive in Antwerp and step off the train. The station is one of the most beautiful I know. The part with the platforms resembles Paris's just-reopened Grand Palais, with its semi-cylindrical early 20th century (the station is 100 years old this year) metal-and-glass structure. The main hall has incredibly high domed ceilings. The columns are huge yet graceful. They're setting up a cat-walk, surrounded by folding chairs. Antwerp is a secondary fashion centre. The whole place could almost be a church. I exit the station. On my right, under the entrance to the Zoo, a man is chatting with a giant raccoon.

I set out looking for Pardaf, a second-hand clothes store. I found out about it a week ago exactly and have nothing else to do, so why not go clothes-shopping. The map on their website is is somewhat lacking in clarity, so I go up the wrong street and end up in the diamond area. Antwerp is a major diamond centre. Here, Gemmopolis Building isn't an empty metaphor. I wander down two empty and annoyingly long streets. I pass a synagogue inside which faithful are performing a ceremony of some sort. Antwerp is also a major Jewish centre. 40 minutes have passed. I try my luck down another street, closer to the Zoo. I ask two police officers if they know the street I'm looking for. "I don't know the streets here." I carry on 20 metres and I've found it. Two well-dressed twenty-somethings stand outside the store. I hesitate, and walk in.

The women's section is an awe-inspiring multi-storey extravaganza. How to look great at half the price. The men's section is, obviously, tucked at the back, making it easier to hide its comparatively meagre offering. I'm vaguely annoyed, but we're all used to this, by now. A pink Hugo Boss dress shirt is the first item to pique my interest. It's nice, but too faded: the colour has all but disappeared in a few crucial places. I try on this and that, including a 100 euro Boss balck two-piece suit. The jacket is okay, the pants are way too big, something else I'm used to and, in this case, actually grateful for. I end up buying a complete outfit: gray Guess? jeans with electric blue stitches (I didn't have any in that colour), a multi-coloured stripy Bellarose shirt and an awesome brown Zara leather jacket. 88 euros altogether. Not exactly cheap, but reasonable.

I haven't eaten yet, so I mull over my choices as I walk back to the station. A salad at Quick? McFlurrys are hard to resist; I saw a poster for a new fruit topping. I enter a small Delhaize supermarket. Their selection of sandwiches is far from screaming "Eat me, I taste good!" I decide to eat at home.

In the train station, the models are rehearsing for the show. I've never seen a real-life fashion show before and I've certainly never seen a rehearsal for one. The music blares. I watch for 20 minutes. 3 of the 4 models I see on the runway are bad, though sometimes interestingly-dressed. I don't know if strutting down the cat-walk is difficult, but there is a certain art to it, and the possibility to express something of your character, or of your act. One girl, wearing a semi-transparent, wedding-style dress, walks, impressively, on her toes, her sock-wearing heels a few centimetres off the ground. I can't make out if this is to make her more floating-fairy-like or to simulate the effect of the shoes she'll be wearing for the real thing. A young girl is wearing a cross between mermaid scales and a low-cut Beyoncé lamé thing. With suede protect-me-from-the-snow-of-this-Ikea-catalogue boots. She's terrible, I tire and my train is in 5 minutes.

During the ride back, I wonder if I should go to the street or not. I'm not in a hurry and I've never been there before. Still, it's strange. The beautiful serendipity of the Sin City, K. Dick and models sequence makes it irresistable.

I decide to leave my stuff in a locker at the station. I don't know the street and don't want my bags to attract attention or tempt pick-pockets. I also want to move easily. I put my clothes bag, my shoulder bag, my phone, my keys and my wallet in the locker. I doubt temptation will come, but if does, I've spared myself the struggle.

I step outside the station and the first thing to hit me is the delicious smell of grilled meat. Coincidentally, it's shopkeepers' day in the Rue de Brabant: they've all put their wares outside and the street is full of people. I decide to go down this street and come back up the other one. Give myself some time to settle in. Incense and meat odours alternate. The bazaar offers everything at once. Music blares.

A few blocks down, I turn to the left. I'm there. I had imagined a solitary, writerly experience. Had that actually been the case, maybe the temptation would have been stronger. By far the most attractive women is the very first I see: false blonde, black lingerie, huge breasts, working her space and blowing kisses. The others are not as much fun, standing or sitting idly. Quickly, it's the practical details that are amusing. A small dog accompanies one woman and I can't help but wonder if it's included in the price. Three girls sit, loudly talking to each other in what sounds like an East European language. At the end of the street, a woman sits, fully-dressed, reading the newspaper, seemingly disinterested about what's going on outside. I wonder if she aims for an older demographic.

A group of three guys is walking at the same pace as me. They stop often to negotiate prices. The girls flash signals at them, 3 fingers. I don't know if that means 30 or 300 euros, 3 hours, the number of participants or the desired level of service. It's this communal aspect I understand least. Going sex-shopping with your buddies? Stepping outside of the brothel, giving the prostitute a kiss on the cheek and striding off, declaring to the world that you've just paid for sex? Perhaps most troubling, is that after looking into a window, it's difficult to look at a pretty girl on the street without feeling that I've dirtied her, or that I've dirtied myself. It's difficult to go from appraisal to normal ogling.