Saturday, December 30, 2006

everything you never wanted to know and never cared to ask

photo by Hélène Collon

Jazz Frisson, a French-Canadian with an ear for Belgian jazz, has published my first-ever interview. Jean-François'ss email questionnaire caught me in a chatty mood, so I sabotaged what should have been a straight-forwardly informative post and turned it into something about concerts I don't see, instruments I don't play, beers I don't drink, etc.

Friday, December 29, 2006

mini-marathon wrap-up

Thomas Champagne Trio - 14/12/2006@Kudeta, Brussels
Qayna - 15/12/2006@Espace Toots, Bruxelles
Clément Nourry - 17/12/2006@La Quarantaine, Bruxelles
Emil Ibrahim Quartet - 18/12/2006@Jazz Station, Brussels
Kaat Hellings - 19/12/2006@Arenbergschouwburg, Antwerpen
Piotr Paluch Quartet - 20/12/2006@Jazz Station, Bruxelles
Bota Fogo - 20/12/2006@GC De Maelbeek, Brussels
Rackham - 21/12/2006@Beursschouwburg Café, Brussel
Giacomo Lariccia Quartet - 22/12/2006@Sounds, Brussels
Ben Prischi Trio - 23/12/2006@Jazz Station, Bruxelles

I feel that my recent intense concert-going period should yield introspection deeper than "Wow, I'm tired" and observation more incisive than "song Y was better than song Z." I'm not sure that's happened. Also, it has made me into a kind of inverted hermit: going out so much isolated me from online life. I rather missed it.

I'm mostly happy that I heard a lot of people I hadn't heard before, or not for a long time. Possible cross-over hit: Kaat Hellings. Big in a few years: Ben Prischi. Biggest talent least likely to succeed because he's on a slightly different plane of existence: Clément Nourry.

At the Rackham concert, I had a very interesting talk with guitarist Benoist Eil (his sax/guitar/drums/tuba/compter-vocalist band Animus Anima (concert review) is releasing its debut CD soon. I trusted in its awesomeness so much that I bought it before it was recorded). He told me that he felt a great renewal and togetherness on the be.scene: the late-20somethings and early-30somethings were really getting their acts together and putting out a lot of mature, exciting projects. He cited two see-them-live bands, Funk Sinatra and The Peas Project. I wrote something similar, about a different circle of musicians, back in September. Maybe there's something to this: Jef Neve has totally blown up to nearly unimaginable levels of popularity, Octurn (slightly older, admittedly) has totally rejuvenated its music and even Teun Verbruggen has decided to start being a band leader, quite succesfully so with Othin Spake. As 2006 fades, 2007 looks bright.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ben Prischi Trio - 23/12/2006@Jazz Station, Bruxelles

Ben Prischi - p
Ben Ramos - b
Guillaume Palomba - d

I arrived just as the trio was finishing the first tune, a Keith Jarrett composition. I was delighted to then hear Andrew Hill's "Siete Ocho," on which Guillaume Palomba ably kept up a full-kit Latinate groove and Ben Prischi delved into the theme's dark clusters, then lightened it up for the solo, but without losing intensity. Guillaume later told me that he'd witnessed a master-class by Hill a few years back, in which Hill's "evasive" and "very metaphoric" (dixit Guillaume) 5 minute answers were boiled down to 1 by the translator.

Ben is a 19 year old French expat currently in his second year at the Conservatory. His Keith Jarrett influence was audible in his long, flowing lines, glossy takes on the blues and the sheer amount of Jarrettian compositions they played ("Personal Mountains" and "River Song"). However, Ben is also attracted to a more distilled, Scandanavian kind of lyricism, which was fully apparent when they played Bobo Stenson's "Golden Ray." Somehow, the Stenson seemed more wary of its own potential sappiness than most of the Jarrett played during this concert and the Giacomo Lariccia performance the night before.

When I asked Ben about the attraction Jarrett's writing exerted, he seemed to be mostly interested in the collective improvising methods the Jarrett's quartets (European and American) had applied to them. I hadn't asked Giacomo the same question, but I think he would have answered "the melodies," a difference in viewpoint that explains the difference in outcome.

Ben's interest in the American Quartet's controlled freeform playing was most obviously expressed on "Blues Connotation" (the trio has a very hip repertoire: aside from a few originals, they also played Sam Rivers's "Cyclic Episode" (pointedly, not "Beatrice"), Tony Williams's "Pee Wee" and Kenny Wheeler's "Smatter"). Ornette Coleman's wonderful blues line allowed for more fractured, percussive and exploratory playing. Ben constantly returned to and reconfigured the theme, for example ironically embedding it in lush, romantic voicings, before spinning away from it, while the trio as a whole juggled time feels: superposing them, digging into a slow, bluesy 12/8, speeding up to an elastic medium tempo. Afterwards, when I praised the arrangement, they told me that not only was it entirely improvised, it was also the first time they'd played it that way in public, as they usually play it straight. If so, and with their broad outlook on the music (we talked about freedom in Jarrett's bands, Mark Turner and lots of other modern jazz stuff, but long after the concert had ended and the Jazz Station emptied, Ben sat down at the piano to play a little boogie-woogie) the band's room to grow is huge. They had taken the straighter route on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," where Guillaume's steady accompaniment was more Blakey than Williams.

Ben Ramos is somewhat older than the trio's other two members, and clearly helped keep them on track. He's an excellent player, sturdy and vigorous, so I'm surprised I'd never seen him before this week.

Giacomo Lariccia Quartet - 22/12/2006@Sounds, Brussels

Giacomo Lariccia - g
Sabin Todorov - p
Olivier Stalon - el b
Lionel Beuvens - d

Giacomo Lariccia warned us early: "We'll be playing a lot of Keith Jarrett." And indeed they did, much of it from the European Quartet. It dovetailed with my unexpected several-day immersion into Fusion: the hew-to-the-song lyricism of "Country" was a bit too sappily soft-rockish, especially when Lariccia took the lead, but also this kind of post-Fusion acoustic jazz revealed itself as a clear predecessor to the melodic approach discussed in the Rackham review. Not all the Jarrett tunes were in this vein, though. "Spider Song" benefitted from Lionel Beuvens's loose funk beat. He likes to see how many ways he can rearrange a groove's cellular structure by shifting its accents and varying the sounds between toms, bells and wood blocks. For the guitar solo he provided a slightly straighter beat and totally sick, sample-ready breaks.

Lariccia had a light sound whose resonance gave it an appropriate 70s/80s tinge. On standards, especially, he phrased the melodies with great delicacy, perhaps in the great Italian song-loving tradition. He also used real-time guitar loops, both rhythmic and textural, to provide interludes and segues between songs. The transitions out of the band sections and into the processed guitar ones were often a bit abrupt, but the idea was a good one and modernised the group sound.

Until now, I'd only heard Sabin Todorov as leader of his own trio (with Lionel), and his facility with this quite different material surprised and delighted me yet again. The concert was very long and, uncharacteristically for the Sounds, was spread over three sets. It was worth staying 'til the end, though, if only for an unaccompanied passage on which Sabin dove back into his Bulgarian roots and uncorked an amazing, intense multi-metered dance rhythm-based onslaught. He's promised to send me a recently recorded concert, so I hope to be able to share some tracks with you soon.

In the mean time, here's a track from Giacomo's demo, featuring Nicolas Kummert, Stalon and Jonathan Callens: Esa.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thomas Champagne Trio - 14/12/2006@Kudeta, Brussels

don't call it bubbly

Thomas Champagne - as (website)
Nicolas Yates - b
Ben Prischi - p

I met Thomas at the as-yet-unblogged-about Octurn workshop the day after this concert. I was struck by his light, high-pitched sound as he sight-read Magic Malik's music half a metre to my left. Unsurprisingly, Jazzques was on the ball long before me.

The line-up was unusual: drummer Didier Van Uytvanck was unavailable and replaced by a pianist, Ben Prischi (again, Jazzques beat me to it). The trio was really still at a working-things-out stage, so between the two sets, Thomas and Ben exchanged gleeful "Hey, chords!" and "Harmonic tension!" Unfortunately, Ben had to play on a keyboard, which was to a piano what a neon tube is to a light bulb.

The trio was light on its feet: Nicholas Yates's time was as rubbery as his body language, Thomas floated and danced demurely, while Ben, a well-mannered guest, refrained from imposing upon his hosts, even though Thomas's compositions were open enough in design to survive the piano's intrusion and encourage spacious-yet-melodic improvisation. I'm looking forward to hearing the working trio in better conditions, and Ben on a real piano.

The Kudeta is a relatively new restaurant owned by singer Francis Goya and his wife and has just started hosting gigs on Thursdays. A gold record (25,000 copies) for Nostalgia hangs on the wall behind the bandstand. I think it was my first restaurant concert and although the interior was superbly designed, I didn't like the feeling of it at all. The keyboard-as-piano increased my unease. I'd rather go to a club.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Rackham - 21/12/2006@Beursschouwburg Café, Brussel

Toine Thys - ts, cl (website | MySpace)
Bart Maris - tp
Benjamin Clément - g
François Verrue - el b
Teun Verbruggen - d
Delphine Gardin, Sacha Toorop - voc

Not only was this Toine Thys's Rackham CD release party (Juanita K, on Teun Verbruggen and Bruno Vansina's R.A.T. Records. Four of its tracks are on the MySpace), it was also sort of his stag night, as he was to get married the next day. Judging by their surnames, they're compatible people: her's is T'Sas and the mere possibility of children named Thys-T'Sas (theestsas) is enough to make me happy.

I can't help drawing broad conclusions when talking about this band. Rackham fits snugly within the Nate Chinen-defined indie-rock/jazz fusion, which I consider to be the latest incarnation of jazz-rock. The contrast with the previous night's concerts was instructive both in regards to my tastes and the evolution of the genre.

If mid-70s Fusion welded together prog-rock, bebop, Hendrix and Brazil, today's jazz-rock has different influences and goals. Rackham's harmonic language and colour was much grungier (not necessarily in the Grunge-with-a-capital-g sense) than Bota Fogo (which Toine is also a member of) and its melodies and arrangements more song-like, employing the full range of verse, chorus, bridge, interlude, etc. If this music is successful, it's because it manages to go pop without sounding dumbed-down: Rackham's arrangements are far more elaborate than the average straight-ahead tune and Toine prides himself on employing a fairly rich harmonic palette. In a sense, complexity is shifted from individual heroics to a more collective realisation.

The fact that it's not really a soloist's band - though there are solos, they're not the focus - also brings Rackham in line with the zeitgeist: see Ratliff on Darcy and Darcy on the role of solos in his big band ("the biggest thing about the music that I write is that it's telling a story, it's going from here to here, and it needs to hit certain points. Even the soloists who are improvising need to understand the ebb and flow of the piece"). Think lower-tech Kneebody* or a friendlier (ie. less English?) Acoustic Ladyland.

Despite the up-to-the-minute references, I can't help but think that this kind of music, with its desire to put the song ahead of its chords and the feet before the brain while taking a firm knowledge of both sides for granted, goes back a long way: to early party-worthy jazzy r'n'b; Miles and Red turning "My Funny Valentine" into a dramatic experience. Only now, the pop melodic language is completely different, obviously.

Francis Davis recently made an interesting statement: "The only remaining incentive for a jazz instrumentalist to do standards—the best reason all along—is what they have to offer harmonically" (never mind that it contradicts what he says two paragraphs earlier). I don't think that's true - musicians just as often use standards as a brak from more demanding originals and in any case they'll either substitute the chords they really want on the fly or write them into their own tunes - but it does suggest that musicians aren't playing the song, aren't making it a dramatic experience, but using it as a building block. Which is fine, but I see the indie/jazz thing, at least in some of its incarnations, as a way of putting the experience of the song itself back in the spotlight. It is perhaps not strange, then, that when the two guest singers from the album came up on stage - first separately, then together - the band's dynamic didn't really change: the voices became another layer, despite the words.

And, finally, Rackham just rocks. François Verrue and Benjamin Clément are real rock musicians, providing mid-level fuzz and the requisite textures ("Juanita Kligopoulou"'s Calexico, dusty border-town feel, for example), while Teun exemplifies the kind of ease that's acquired solely with what you grew up on. While Rackham isn't nearly as free-wheeling as Othin Spake, when the rhythm section span off by itself for a rare guitar solo, it was volcanic.

The two horns often bounced off each other, but never competitively. Toine has sought to adapt his playing to the context by paring down and stressing longer notes. Bart Maris did more or less the opposite, just as winningly: his wilder exclamations tapped into the band's electric energy.

* I kind of dissed Adam Benjamin's solo album, but his playing with Kneebody is great, as is the entire band

Friday, December 22, 2006

Qayna - 15/12/2006@Espace Toots, Brussels

Naziha Meftah, Laïla Amezian, Anissa Rouass - voc
Abid Bahri - oud, saz, comp
Ariane de Bièvre - fl, bansuri
Céline Bodson, Véronique Dekock, Karina Staripolski, Aurélia Boven - string quartet
Stefaan Willems - b
Peter Schneider, Jessica Tamsma - percussion

I went to this because Anissa Rouass is the receptionist at the clinic where IVN used to work, and it's a good thing I did. As you might guess from the personnel, it's an extensive and ambitious project.

Most jazz-world fusion efforts (or jazz with strings albums) I've heard, without being bad, don't really amount to much, so I was happily surprised by how totally I was taken with Qayna. The whole thing flowed almost uninterrupted and thus could easily be seen as one long work, rather than a series of songs strung together.

The saz/oud, flute/bansuri and string quartet worked together very well, whether on vibrant melodies, meditative interludes or rhythmic passages. The quartet occasionally got into some more dissonant areas that were seamlessly integrated: impressive, without calling attention to themselves. One percussionist used mostly North African hand drums while the other used a floor tom, cymbals and assorted small stuff. The bassist added a jazzy touch, mostly holding down enthusiastic vamps. The three singers sang together, alone or in duets, but there were also instrumental passages. The oldest of the three had a smoky voice that seemed like it was coming straight from an old 78 warped by the North African heat.

Bota Fogo - 20/12/2006@GC De Maelbeek, Brussels

Javier Breton - el b
Toine Thys - ts, ss
Matthieu Van - kb
Mehdi Benadji - d

Bota Fogo tapped into a broadly similar Fusion vein as the Piotr Paluch Quartet, but upped the volume, electricity and groove and leader Javier Breton reportedly uses Latin American songs as inspiration. Mehdhi Benadji provided relentless polyrhythms that danced around Breton's fast, forceful vamps. The drummer's hi-hat, which was, I guess, supposed to hold down the basic tempo, often hovered close enough to the edge of the beat to give the rhythm an unsettled feel. When he constantly changed his phrasing of one tune's 6/8, the effect was of wanting to dance, but having difficulty knowing when to put a foot down (a couple of girls dancing next to me illustrated the problem). Together, they laid the foundation for pulsing riffs and melodic bridges.

Even when Toine Thys and Matthieu Van slowed things down, the rhythm section never really let up, which on the one hand created interesting is-this-fast-or-slow tension, but on the other hand flattened out the dynamic variations between pieces.

On one piece that uncharacteristically included stretches of frenetic swing, Matthieu provided a very cool, weird and warped synth-horn section that seemed both sarcastic and loving. When the rest of the band left the pianist to delve into lush, romantic chords on his own, it also initially seemed sarcastic, until Toine joined in on tenor and confirmed that, yes, they were playing standard jazz harmony, sincerely. Unsurprisingly, the jazz ballad feel was abruptly dropped in favour of a fast, thumping beat and a happy riff.

Piotr Paluch Quartet - 20/12/2006@Jazz Station, Brussels

Piotr Paluch - kb, p
Alexandre Cavalière - vln
Ben Ramos - b
Jonathan Callens - d

I last saw Piotr perform nearly three years ago. Since then, he's been finding some success with the funk-jazz of The KMGs (MySpace | website | jazzques concert review). This quartet is also 70s-slanted, but towards Fusion - in which the amplified violin sound is its own sub-genre. Alexandre Cavalière started out as a child prodigy Gypsy jazz violinist. He's been branching out for the last few years, but hasn't disavowed his roots: he wore a "Gypsy Jazz Festival 2004" t-shirt. Throughout the first set, Cavalière grinned goofily at his bandmates, at the audience and, it seemed, at the world in general. He also let out his inner rhythm guitarist during others' solos and leapt from his chair during his own.

Of course, there's Fusion and Fusion. I love Mwandishi and 70s Miles and Nils Petter Molvaer's Solid Ether and Chris Speed's Yeah/No and Ellery Eskelin's trio-turned-quartet (maybe I'm casting too wide a net, here), but have more trouble with the more funky-melodic style this group played, which I see as stemming from Return To Forever, some aspects of Mahavishnu, 60s/70s prog-rock and the repurposing of bebop harmony and melody to new rhythms.

Jonathan Callens was pretty good at holding down the fast samba-fusion beats, but it's only on Chuck Loeb's set-ending "Kali-Au" (which was apparently part of Stan Getz's repertoire at one point) that I got somewhat into it, as the drummer prodded Piotr into a mightily rhythmic, funky-bluesy Fender Rhodes workout. Prior to that, an interesting arrangement of an Arthur Honegger string quartet had yielded a particularly inspired ECM ballad-ish piano-bass interlude, which led back to a stormy full band section.

The three originals that opened the set, though, were pretty unengaging, occasionally veering towards the cheesy or superficial. I think I preferred the Loeb tune because it was vintage, whereas the originals felt retro. I left after the first set, something I rarely do, to go see Bota Fogo...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Emil Ibrahim Quartet - 18/12/2006@Jazz Station, Brussels

Emil Ibrahim - p
Ruslan Huscynov - b
Alexander "Jazz" Mashim - d (Ibrahim systematically included the Elvin Jones-like nickname)
Natiq Shirinov - nagara

Recently, the NY Times ran an article (republished in the IHT) about European countries subsidising their rock bands' US tours. Of course, in jazz the practice is a long-standing one that is still alive today. That these kinds of gigs come with a built-in audience - the Jazz Station was full of the Azerbaïdjan embassy's guests (but there was no Ferrero Rocher pyramid) - can be a double-edged sword: when the greyer-headed dignitaries left after the first set, coincidentally or not, the music got a lot less polite.

The material was split roughly evenly between East and West, with further subdivisions that spanned those categories. The first piece was fun, lightly bluesy uptempo swing in an Oscar Peterson/Ahmad Jamal vein. The pairing of a funky "Maiden Voyage" and a romantic "Some Day My Prince Will Come" set up two poles, which "St. Thomas" connected by starting with a strong calypso beat and a slightly demented feel (Ibrahim delivered the melody in tight bunches that rushed ahead of the groove. He would do the same during the second set on a rambunctious "Caravan") but progressively let go of both to settle into a less incisive groove. The second set started with an impressive Orient-inflected take on the Brad Mehldau Trio: a very loose odd-metred rhythm ambiguously cushioned and buoyed the pianist's melodic-yet-mysterious ruminations.

On the Eastern side of the equation, there was the traditional "The White Apple From Buba," which opened with a reflective, modal piano introduction and featured Shirinov in a fluttering, colouristic role, as he tugged on the rope circling his nagara drum's body to heighten its pitch. More often, though, Ibrahim drew on powerful rhythms anchored by the drums and nagara on one side and his left hand and the bass on the other. "Zibeyda" and "Pandemus Imperator" both alernated heavy riffs, a quiet, impressionistic bridge and sing-song melodies. Ibrahim ended the concert by reaching to another geographic source of inspiration: after combining an Azeri melody and beat with a jazz harmony-laden bridge, he dove into a full-fledged Cuban descarga on the coda.

The Azeri nagara combined winningly with Mashim's drumset. It is made up of two independent, different-sounding drums (one very resonant, the other dry), sized and shaped like a drum kit's toms, but played much like a derbouka and with a rope allowing pitch-shifting on the resonant drum. As with all hand drums played with the fingertips as well as the palms, the nagara produced a huge variety of sounds and intricately-detailed rhythms. Considering the relative economy of means, hand drums do so much more elegantly than the standard drum kit. Natiq Shirinov and Alexander Mashim engaged in an absurdly fun and over-the-top duet that reached its climax when Shirinov requested the audience clap along. It was the only time Mashim didn't seem miserable.

The drummer was also showing some of his black-and-white photography in the Jazz Station's spacious back room. There wasn't much context given, but I think the subjects were refugees in Azerbaïdjan. The photos featured children and portraits of old, wrinkled faces. You can't go far wrong with those two topics, but a few were really beautiful.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kaat Hellings - 19/12/2006@Arenbergschouwburg, Antwerpen

Kaat Hellings - p, voc (MySpace)
Joachim Badenhorst - cl, bcl (rawfishboys MySpace)
Yves Peeters - d

On the way to Antwerp and back, there was a fog so thick that roadside gas stations emerged like ghost ships, their fluorescent lights casting an otherworldly halo. My concert-going experience was also slightly strange: I was late and the staff didn't want to let me in, because the room was allegedly full to the brim. That wasn't too surprising, the concert being free, but at least I could stand before the door and listen. I discreetly opened it wider and wider to hear better, until a barely-able-to-stand drunk guy went right in and sat down on the other side of the door. That allowed me to see that there was some more floor space across the room, so, sober but emboldened, I did the late-arriver's hunched-over, semi-running thing across the front of the stage in between two songs. A few minutes later, the drunk guy was literally dragged out into the café area by the staff and I could just make out that they had to sort of wrestle with him on the ground to get him under control. The contrast with the music was huge.

I found out about Kaat when she sent me a MySpace friend request. I checked her page out, liked the songs and noticed that Joachim (who, with the Rawfishboys and Red Rocket records and the Skakk Trio concert, has become my favourite be.musician discovery of 2006. I have no idea if the local tastemakers follow the same things as I do, but I expect him to get some Django d'Or Nouveau Talent attention next year) and Yves Peeters (who I know mostly from the very good Jazzisfaction quartet, which released its second CD on De Werf recently) were her band, which further piqued my interest.

The MySpace tracks come from her just-released debut CD and reflect what I heard in concert rather well. Still, it was impressive to feel up close the kind of enveloping silence and stillness her slow songs carry within them and can impose around them. The smallest dynamic and tonal shifts were thus amplified. Her pieces are generally short, stately and haunting. I was regularly reminded of Jon Brion-ised Fiona Apple, in the complex lyrics and tortuous phrasing (though Kaat doesn't have Apple's facility), but also in the way one song's existential musing was regularly interrupted and enlivened by a wild two-beat and groaning bass clarinet (IKaat lists Sisel Endresen and Patricia Barber as influences on Kaat's MySpace page). A Pearl Jam cover ("Nothing Man") was very still, but her own "Improve My Day" bashed out a steady 5/4.

While Kaat's piano-playing itself didn't seem really technically demanding, it was far from mere ham-fisted repetition of a handful of chords: the progressions were long, sophisticated and elaborately arranged and distributed across the range of the keyboard, all in delicately-crafted support of each song's particular meaning.

Afterwards, I had the pleasure of talking at length with South African singer Tutu Puoane (website | MySpace) and Joachim over generously-offered and tasty CD release party appetisers and champagne. Tutu is recording an album in January to be released in May. I found out that Joachim is actually half South African, so I was the odd man out. Well, I recently rented a Samuel L. Jackson film set in Truth And Reconciliation Committee-era South Africa, does that count?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Clément Nourry - 17/12/2006@La Quarantaine, Bruxelles

Clément Nourry - g (MySpace)

Clément is one of the first people I met when I moved to Belgium. After a set by the Inaudibles collective and before a Han Bennink-Cor Fuhler duo, in an uncommon access of solitude-fueled bravery, I randomly went up to him and asked him what he had thought of it. Afterwards, we crossed paths often at many concerts, the latest being the Schlippenbach trio, and even went to a few together. Clément has also been known to offer me a hot chocolate. Opportunities to see him play have been scarce, but memorable - the Llop Borja concert a year ago being a case in point.

He started the concert with soft plings that rised slowly, soothingly. The plinging turned harsher, but always a few notes would ring out and decay beautifully. Thus, it was not surprising when he latched on to a one-chord blues arpeggio. Actually, the only entry listed in both the "Influences" and "Sounds Like" categories of Clément's MySpace page is Bob Dylan, so maybe it was to be expected, regardless of the high tongue-in-cheek quotient. The arpeggio was built upon and moved around in various ways until the passing of the slide over the strings from one place to another became the central sound. The avant-blues/gutbucket trope was a recurrent one: later, rhythmic unpitched plucking morphed into stinging Delta blues shot through with high harmonics for that avant edge.

"In A Sentimental Mood" and a bebop standard that I could sing along to but not name served as crucibles for an inventive and natural mix of light, straight-ahead jazz, fuzzy rock and rollicking r'n'b. Another standard, which sometimes sounded like "Someone To Watch Over Me" but probably wasn't, opened onto soft, sensitive chords that swelled and faded. Throughout the concert, phrasing, volume, tone and density were carefully shifted around, so that overall texture spoke its own volumes.

The visceral pleasures of melody, texture and noise that implies volume without effecting it were also embodied in a great song whose harmony evoked Metheny, a hushed "Lonely Woman" and a chiming, dreamy, music box-like piece whose unusually pure notes were left to hang and glimmer. Towards the end of the concert, a steadfast blues shuffle was followed by a laid-back country-ish tune, and the kind of simple-yet-complex-yet-direct communication Clément wished to engage in was made amply clear. Afterwards, La Quarantaine, a place that hosts photo exhibitions and sells insane coffee table photography books, put on Fennesz's Venice, a nonchalantly über-hip move that made a lot of sense.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rêve d'Eléphant Orchestra - 06/12/2006@Sounds, Brussels

Michel Debrulle - d, perc
Stephan Pougin - d, perc
Etienne Plumer - d, tablas
Michel Massot - tba, tb, euphonium
Benoist Eil - g, banjo
Alain Vankenhove - tp, flh
Pierre Bernard - fl, b fl

In the late 80s and early 90s, a scene sprang up in Liège and around American trombonist Garrett List. It drew together all kinds of rhythms, opera, contemporary composition, improvisation, jazz, etc. People like Fabrizio Cassol, Michel Massot and Michel Debrulle and others came from there. Something of that period lives on in the Rêve d'Eléphant Orchestra, in the feeling of wildly disparate elements that fall into place neatly. Well, neatly enough, anyway: I mean, who layers a quick orientalising piccolo melody atop a big rock guitar riff with the brass playing synchronised car honks on the side - and makes it work?

The harmonie and fanfare are to Belgium what the brass band is to New Orleans. The Rd'EO borrows from those formats and their street parade energy and expands the rhythmic purview to include Indian sounds via the tablas and Benoist Eil's fretless guitar (Eil has replaced wildman/genius Jean-Yves Evrard), an African, collectivist kind of approach to percussion and Afro-American musics, along with a few tricky composing twists and some uncompromising improvisation. The whole thing is smothered in a junkyard circus aesthetic that effectively hides complexity and sophistication under layers of fun.

Michel Massot has always been the resident clown, but now he's joined by newcomer Alain Vankenhove. They both occasionally gesticulated, sang and danced, while playing impressively and expressively, putting emotion alongside the slapstick. "Ganesh Goes To Hollywood" expanded the comedy to the whole band, as a tablas intro was augmented by farmyard clucking and braying and followed by a funny, extremely vocalised trumpet solo with accomanying silly gestures.

Massot has long been making a compelling case for the euphonium as the perfect compromise between a tuba's power and a trumpet's agility. He would blow directly into his trombone's mute and make it sound uncannily like Miles using a wah-wah pedal, or use a plunger mute more traditionally and evoke a lost member of Ellington's brass section. Vankenhove matched this historical range, from gut-bucket growls to rhythmic unpitched air.

Having three drumsets (and other smaller implements) on stage should spell disaster - either hopelessly messy or unbearably loud. The Rd'EO percussion section, however, uses arrangements that lead not only to deep, interlocking polyrhythms, but also to textural complementarity. The latter makes up, in a way, for the lack of bass, as the percussion's lower frequencies fill its space.

The concert started with "Les folies de Cécile," a song I know well: when I first got the Rd'EO's debut album Racines du Ciel in 2001 or 2002, I spent many hours sitting in front of the stereo, resetting the track over and over again to learn it on tin flute. The humble Irish whistle was rather appropriate: it's the kind of melody that gets better the less sophisticated the instrument you play it on. "Les folies de Cécile" also serves as a handy summary for much of the Rd'EO's writing: either because it is recycled elsewhere, as in one song's eery whistling, or because its template - a catchy, exotic sing-song melody that opens up to floating collective improv over a deeply layered beat - permeates several other compositions.

It wasn't all extroverted craziness. When Pierre Bernard picked up the bass flute, space was opened up first for a peaceful duet with Eil and then for a mournful fluegelhorn solo over a slow 7/4 beat. Still, when the band came back for a well-deserved third encore, they couldn't help but triumphantly mime elephants (or mime triumphant elephants?), an arm in lieu of a trunk.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Poznan Nightingales - 08/12/2006@OLV Katedraal, Antwerpen

Poznan Nightingales (website)

IVN's parents invited us to this Christmas concert in Antwerpen's cathedral. Antwerpenaars alledgedly call it the most beautiful in the world. I'd be hard-pressed to agree.

I got there a bit late, but the first half of the concert consisted of Mozart. The choral, ranging in age from grandchildren to grandparents, was a little underpowered for the vast space, but I was impressed by their ensemble softness. The second half started with Bach and Handel, which were rather bland and maybe even a bit rough. I was really waiting for the Polish songs at the end of the program. They put the sheet music away and simply sang, naturally and instinctively. It all came powerfully alive, no thinking about German pronunciation.

I spent the rest of the week-end at IVN parents' home. I managed to read 1.5 chapters of Bob Dylan's Chronicles. In the first chapter alone, there were at least 10 delightful phrases that screamed "use me as your subtitle," but Hunter S. Thompson is still up there. I also listened to the Toots Thielemans installment in the De Morgen jazz series (another unfinished project...), which I don't have. It starts with some great George Shearing Quintet tracks and is excellent throughout the 50s and 60s. It seems that the 80s were when Toots developed his cold, irritating TV soundtrack sound...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Samo Salamon Trio - 10/12/2006@Archiduc, Brussels

the loneliness of the drummer before the Archiduc kick off

Samo Salamon - g (website)
Drew Gress - b
Tom Rainey - d

I'd never heard of Samo Salamon before, but he's been prolific: his website lists a 2005 release and three in 2006, all as leader and all of his own compositions. Looking over the tracklistings, I don't think what they played here overlapped much with his recorded repertoire. The least that can be said is that Salamon is keeping busy.

outside, i met my first estonians

I figured a concert with Tom Rainey was worth seeing. He didn't disappoint: his center-less polyrhythms were as engrossing, perplexing and paradoxally toe-tapping as ever. He might even have hinted at thinking about possibly cracking the shadow of smile, once. Of late I've been telling everyone I meet about how great the Claudia Quintet is, so going to see Drew Gress was logical. I was ill-seated to hear him properly (are there good seats at the Archiduc?), but was bowled over by a brief arco interlude during which he varied his attack between a pure, straight sound and a fiddler's roughness, while injecting the whole with a kind of East European soulfulness.

As a whole, though, the concert wasn't particularly exciting, although it picked up in the second set. The "modern" reference points were there: early MacLaughlin; the way the sound seemed somehow distant, which I associate with a Mists of Avalon moment since listening to John Surman's Way Back When; the occasional Metheny-ish sing-song melodies, chords and light sound; the liberal infusions of clattering, plingy improv. Still, the writing was in what I think of, perhaps erroneously, as a contemporary NY guitar vein and left me little to be moved or thrilled by.

The second set started with an aggressive guitar solo that set up a better mood. On "My Amusing News"'s (check the song titles on Salamon's discography page, I'll let you decide if they are funny or painful) intro, Salamon accompanied his own expressive melody with rhythmically fine-grained strumming. After a ballad semi-sarcastically called "Too Emotional For This World" came a particularly great piece that imbricated different rhythmic feels and worked itself up into a harmonically spiky quasi-funk lather before totally cutting loose into a wild, blistering whirlwind. Rainey produced a great solo that broke the beat up into unpredictable shards. By the end of the second set I was reconsidering my negative first set impressions, but the encore, a listless ballad, brought them all back.

estonia: clearly the place to be. terviseks!

Afterwards, I talked with Toine Thys (of Rackham fame - their debut album Juanita K has just come out) about the jazz/rock thing. He observed that jazz musicians all tend to have a pop (or pop-ish) band (r'n'b/funk for black musicians, rock for white ones) and cited Seamus Blake and Reid Anderson as examples, as Toine's brother Nic (whom you may also know from Bill Carrothers's trio) played bass in one of their bands (or maybe they were all in the same band, it's all jumbled in my mind). I guess Roy Hargrove is another good example. Is this a new thing? While jazz musicians have always played all kinds of music as sidemen or session musicians, I didn't get the impression that they often led more pop-leaning bands at the same time as jazz bands. Changing times, economics and formative years?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

jazz blog glossary

Terms that have no meaning outside the jazz blogosphere, or a very specific meaning within it.


Short-hand for the project of ressurrecting the creative jazz of a period widely considered jazz-deprived (1973-1980) or conservative (1980-1990).
Unwittingly launched when Ethan Iverson drew up an extensive annotated list of recordings from that period.
Additions poured in. Three volumes of reader contributions as well as two follow-ups were posted on Do The Math.
Rejoinders from around the web were compiled by visionsong.
The wiki-style Ear Of The Behearer became the projects permanent home in December 2006.
Nate Chinen's "In the Blogosphere, an Evolving Movement Brings Life to a Lost Era of Jazz" brought the movement to the world.


Stands for "crazy, experimental freedom."
Long version first used by Dave Douglas in an interview with Mike Zwerin.
Abbreviation coined by be.jazz.
The philosophical underpinnings of CEF werequestioned by It Is Not Mean If It Is True (Attack Attack Attack), following comments to a be.jazz post.
The term was subsequently clarified and contextualised by Dave Douglas.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Alexander Von Schlippenbach Trio - 04/12/2006@De Werf, Brugge

"jazz is like a virus: once you've caught it, you've got it" - Evan Parker

Alexander Von Schlippenbach - p
Evan Parker - ts, ss
Paul Lovens - d

It's the yearly AVS Trio rendez-vous, nearly to the day. Unlike last time, Parker played soprano as well as tenor, in the second set. And, frankly, having his patented circular breathing soprano saxophone solo create a weird buzzing sound in your ears is a powerful expereince everyone should have at least once.

They barrelled straight into it, but it's only when Parker dropped out and Lovens stopped swamping everything with his very bright cymbals and started interacting with Von Schlippenbach that I really got into it. AVS provided the most highlights, for me. The clarity and lightness of even his wildest playing and his humourous demeanour - hands flopping about, held high above the keyboard, singing along to himself in a very rhythmical, quasi-scat way - were amazing. As is his wont, free-stride and blues references (did I really hear a hokey ascending dominant 7th chord bass line?) were sprinkled throughout the flurries and percussive outbursts.

Effecting profound changes of mood can be difficult in this kind of free jazz, but AVS managed that when, after an intense circular tenor passage, he lingered over single chords for longer, creating an agitated stillness. Lovens followed that up by examining the resonance of various bells and cymbals. He'd often been rather invasive during the set, so I appreciated the quietness and space.

During the pause, everyone seemed to find the first set lacklustre. Maybe the band did too, as the approach shifted considerably in the second half. AVS placed some stuff on the piano's strings and they started with very quiet, broken, disembodied blurts, the very opposite of the first set's beginning.

Another AVS highlight: he drew us out of the abstract stuff by playing a very fast, pounding and sinister motif in the Bösendorfer's lowest register, after having placed a grater (I believe) on the strings that rendered the sound very metallic. He moved the pattern upwards
very slowly, adding a note at a time. It was the first time of the concert that one element was sustained for so long and it could have been the score to a particularly sinister movie scene.

After the concert, P-M and J-P filmed an interview with AVS and Parker, which Philippe (of Kris Wanders review fame) led. Among many interesting things, AVS clearly defined himself as a jazz musician, in terms of history and attitude. There was little doubting it, really, as at one point he slid patiently into a very traditional reflective jazz piano ballad mode. The concert ended with the night's most ferocious playing. I should have been hollering along, but I was kind of exhausted, so I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have.

The encore was perhaps just what I needed: AVS hit the strings with this huge mallet and let the sound resonate and decay naturally, altering it only lightly with the sustain pedal. What a beautiful sound that is. I used to work in a sixth floor office which was level with a church's bell. Over time, I came to really enjoy hearing the bell ring, then go up in pitch as the fundamental and lower overtones died away before the higher ones did. It's amazing how much the piano's sound changes as the same process occurs, but in a much more complex way.

jazz and blogs #11

Surviving The Crunch
One can barely move for blogging musicians nowadays, but our arms are always open. Especially as the ranks of blogging improv accordeonists are pretty thin. STC is Ted Reichman, whom I know mainly through his association with John Hollenbeck (Claudia Quintet, Large Ensemble) and saw in Chris Speed's Yeah/No almost 3 years ago. If you don't know Hollenbeck, there can be no better introduction than the video in this post, which blows my mind on multiple levels.
[via Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches]

Jazz Frisson, MP3s, videos and discussion from Québec.

Stephen Haynes, yes, yet another trumpeter.


thirteen ways
The blog of string quartet eighth blackbird. Chickens (both metaphorical and literal) should avoid this post.

Monday, December 04, 2006

unstandard braxton

Timo Hoyer, whom I didn't meet but was also at the PP Café concerts, sent me a link to the english translation of his March 2006 Jazzthetik article entitled "Music for the 21st century." Here are the two paragraphs relevant to the standards playing debate. Not too esoteric, either.

More often than ever the last years found Braxton performing jazz standards.
His European tour of 2003 - completely dedicated to the tradition - is documented on eight CDs (Leo Records). "I did this tour because occasionally I have to gain distance from my other projects and return to the fundaments." A fusion of jazz standards with his own compositions is out of the question, though. "I keep them strictly apart. I hark back to the traditional repertoire to make positive experiences and show new possibilities. But this material belongs to the 20th century, whereas my work is about the 21st century! Merging them wouldn't work. My music is neither jazz nor classical. It's the music of the unemployed." (laughs)

The recent standards recordings have been met with enthusiastic praise but also with vehement criticism. How does Braxton reply to accusations that he sometimes plays themes and heads incorrectly? "From my point of view these are the wrong arguments. It always has been a part of the tradition to handle thematic material with creativity. I've been playing these compositions for over 40 years and therefore it's my urge to keep them fresh, even if I'm making so-called mistakes. It's ridiculous and insulting that I'm supposed to prove I can play this or that scale. For me, doubts about my whole work itself are behind these objections. 'Does he have
intellect as an African-American? Can he swing?' If there's a debate about my ability to play traditional material, then those people who question me have no idea of who I am. But I won't change my work and I won't spend the rest of my live with showing the jazz people that I can play _How High The Moon_ in its original form."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

hello (cornet) my (fickle) friend

The cornet is in the wind (dans le vent).

Dave Douglas and Spider Monkey Stories play it. DD asks the big question.

All this prompted me to put on a CD that I've had for a few months, but not really listened to: the Warren Vaché/Bill Charlap duet 2Gether, the only album I have with either. It's a standards set, but from the very first notes of "If I Should Lose You," Vaché makes clear that it's the real deal.

Finally, will the instrument jump the shark when someone uses Cornette in a title?

Octurn - 02/12/2006@Jazz Station, Brussels

Bo Van Der Werf - bs (website)
Guillaume Orti - as
Laurent Blondiau - tp, flh
Magic Malik - fl, voc
Fabian Fiorini - p
Jozef Dumoulin - fender
Jean-Luc Lehr - el b (MySpace)
Chander Sardjoe - d

(See also: September 2006 concert review and perhaps a forthcoming mega-post that I've been working on for the longest time...)

This is the fourth time I've seen them this year and each time has been better than the last. One thing is becoming increasingly clear: the influence of Malik.

It is my personal assessment that two "external" musicians have deeply altered the course of Octurn's history. The first was trombonist Geoffroy De Masure, who is no longer a member. 6 years ago, on Round, his "Round-Miroir" ushered in the more overt European-take-on-Steve Coleman sound that would become central to the band for the next 4-5 years. The second is Malik.

Magic Malik is also a Coleman disciple (he is on Weaving Symbolics and Coleman is on some of the flutist's albums), but he brings a lightness of touch and soft-focus intensity that has totally eliminated the overly-cerebral and bombastic elements that had taken root in Octurn. Whereas at one time there had been an insistent, almost independent, math-funk groove underneath a lumbering orchestral mass, now there's a lot more looseness and dreamy drift. The music is also more collective and unified and the relationships between instruments has gained in clarity. I'm looking forward to the recordings made in September being released.

The very long first piece was a sort of 30-35 minute medley of Malik compositions. Initially the musicians floated around a textural core that managed not to lose its character. I wondered how the music was organised: the structure seemed porous and slow to unfold, yet there were several very precise shifts. One of Malik's great contributions was to plot surprisingly melodic, hooky and simple horn motifs through complex harmonies, thereby offseting the complexity of the odd-metered bass vamps, dissonant voicings and group interaction, or, inversely, to overlay an apparently straight-forward beat with a bass-and-voice line in a different meter, to funky effect. As the volume subsided after one climax, a quasi-pastoral front-line motif was revealed and I couldn't help but think of the contemporary American big bands I've listening to over the last few days (John Hollenbeck's, Maria Schneider's and Darcy's).

When Chander Sardjoe kickstarted the music with a light-footed and lop-sided drum'n'bass beat, the ongoing motif was reshaped into something faster and more percussive. Laurent Blondiau then used his plunger to play off the saxophone section, in a way that tapped totally unexpectedly into Ellington.

While there were occasional out-and-out solo + accompaniment moments throughout the concert, only one piece, Bo Van Der Werf's "Calcutta" was completely based on that form. Otherwise, it was mostly an is-it-improvised-or-composed circulation bewteen brilliant piano interludes, improvised duets, unhurried grooves and massive ensembles. This left a lot of room for the unexpected. The last piece of the second set mutated from gentle horns being intermittently undercut by the fuzzy rock energy of a complex, stabbing rhythm section pattern to a slow and loose dub lilt, which Guillaume Orti and Blondiau suddenly played a quasi-fanfare riff over, at an unrelated, faster tempo. The joy here was in hanging on while the whole thing seemed on the very brink of falling apart.

I don't know if full disclosure is necessary on a blog, but after the concert, the band invited me to dine with them. The Italian food and spicy conversation had no effect on my opinion of this fantastic concert, though.

I was very happy to make the acquaintance Raoul and his wife. Raoul is one of those old guys whose amazing life story you instantly envy. In 1966, aged 27, he left the comforts of the Belgian bourgeoisie to attend the first Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres in Dakar and ended up staying in Sénégal for 20 years. Rejected by the Euro-expat society, he bonded deeply with the Senegalese. He also travelled in the Carribbean and met Aimé Césaire and his peers, studied their work and spoke passionately of its impact, the scale of which he finds still under-recognised.

An architect, in 1963 he designed a set used at the Olympia behind John Coltrane's Quartet, then went to the restaurant with him. An elderly Dizzy Gillespie stayed at his Senegalese home. Stan Getz celebrated his 53rd birthday there. He's been following jazz since the 1950s and is still totally enthralled with its latest evolutions, 50 years later. How many people can you say that of? He loved Octurn's concert, too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

not so secret a society any more

it's all about the two-tone shoes

Ben Ratliff reviews Darcy.

Believe it or not, I was actually listening to "Flux In A Box," the tune Ratliff starts his article with, when I started reading the article. The praise comes in a roundabout manner, but overall Ratliff describes the music well. It's unfortunate that he doesn't mention the blog. In any case, we can make up our own minds.

Ratliff touches upon the "writing vs. solo" debate. I sometimes get the feeling that the mainstream improvising language lags behind the writing language of bands like Maria Schneider's or Darcy's. But I got that feeling with some of Mingus's bands, too, for example. It's just the feeling that the composition points to things beyond what the improviser is doing. Naturally, that's easy to say, from the outside. We're more used to the reverse: the latest improvising approaches applied to old-fashioned material.

I don't get this feeling at all from John Hollenbeck's music (be it the Large Ensemble or the Claudia Quintet), but that may be because he doesn't really rely on soloists, but on the personalities of Chris Speed and Matt Moran, to cite the two in both bands, in a more general way.

Darcy links to a NMBx article and video featuring him, Sherisse Rogers and Charles Waters talking about contemporary big band writing. I'd long wondered (without daring - or thinking - to ask) what Darcy meant by "steam-punk." Now I know. Also, Darcy's re-enactment of "the first cold call" is worth your time.