Back to Belgium. I was particularly pleased to get the invitation to the second Belgian Jazz Meeting. because so much of my career from the mid-eighties till the turn of the millennium was completely involved with Belgium. The meeting was held in Liège, a city of a river and many bridges, which tends to describe itself as being at the “crossroads of Europe”, and now has a completely unmissable new Santiago Calatrava-designed 2009 STATION (great images by the way).
A feature which couldn’t fail to impress about the meeting’s welcome evening was the complete ease with which the two language communities in Belgian jazz collaborate to present a united front. The dominant organizing figures on the scene, such as Rik Bevernage who runs the scene in Gent in Flanders around De Werf, and Jean-Pierre Bissot, who runs the Gaume Festival in Wallonia (Alison Bentley reviewed it for us)- and also the Chellah Festival in Rabat that I’m going to late this week – seem to have no problem aligning and combining their activities and teams for an event like this. The deep sense that, in jazz “difference is enriching”, as one speaker said was the guiding principle of everything I witnessed. I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the whole event.
Georges Tonla Briquet was host for the welcome evening and introduced the acts of the showcase extremely effectively. There was a quick introduction to the jazz history of Liège. Tonla Briquet interviewed Jean-Pol Schroeder who has written a history of jazz in Liège and also a biography of an important local jazz icon, the Liège born saxophonist Bobby Jaspar (1926-1963), who moved to the US and was the husband of Blossom Dearie in the last seven years of his life.
The town has other important jazz connections: saxophonist Steve Houben is an important figure. Having studied at Berklee, he returned to Belgium to set up the jazz seminar at the Liège conservatory which attracted many fine musicians to the town – Chet Baker , Art Taylor, Steve Lacy, Bill Frisell all came and taught at the seminar in its heyday.
As in other countries, the combining of generations is an important feature of the scene. At the opening night showcase, my ears were caught by the highly impressive, measured, sorted, rising star pianist originally from Knokke-Heist on the Belgian coast, Bram de Looze, currently living in New York and studying at Manhattan’s New School. He was playing with the highly experienced, sonorous bassist of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra Jos Machtel and young drummer Matthias De Waele (image below).
Un très grand merci aux organisateurs / Hartelijk bedankt voor de organisatie.
A few resources for Belgian jazz.
– The three-language site jazzinbelgium.com looks the most complete and regularly updated, and distributes newsletters in the three languages English, Dutch and French.
– For Dutch-speakers and Google translate users the magazine Jazz Mozaiek is very helpful. Jazzaroundpress does a similar job for French-speakers but I believe is only online.
– La Mediatheque has a good source of the history of the music in Belgium, in French.
– And for those who are always/only looking to add to their list famous Belgians, there is always Adolphe Sax who was born in Dinant, upstream, ie South of Liège on the Meuse, which becomes the Maas when it flows north across the language border.
Oliver Weindling writes:
Of the 12 bands on show over the two days of the showcase, here is a selection of 4 which caught my attention:
An updated (and pared down) version of a Balkan brass band, with two saxophones, trumpet , tuba and percussion. The trumpet playing of Laurent Blondiau stood out, as did the dynamism and contortions of Michel Massot on tuba. Completely impossible to pin down stylistically, it was unique – reminding me at times of warped Bulgarian wedding dances, and the collaborations of Chris Batchelor and Steve Buckley such as Big Air.
An imaginative young reedsman playing solo. Already known here for performances with John Butcher and with Han Bennink, his new solo work has become more lyrical, more akin to theme and variations. I also have just received a new septet recording and am digesting it slowly and with pleasure.
Igor Gehenot Trio
Another pianist building on the legacy of Keith Jarrett and EST but moving it forward fearlessly. He is lucky to include the inventive drummer Teun Verbruggen (of, inter alia, Flat Earth Society). They will be performing at an Igloo/Belgian jazz night (in partnership with Music LX) at the Vortex on 23 November in the London Jazz Festival. And certainly will not be overawed by the “headliner” of Philip Catherine on that night.
Alto saxophonist Ben Sluijs (of Octurn and Brussels Jazz Orchestra) led a fully acoustic trio with bass and drums. It repaid the concentration required, with intriguing contrapuntal interplay. At times though, the limitations of the bass’s range and relative quietness seemed to limit some options.
..and a few others
These are just a few of many other things that made for a fascinating couple of days, such as the sole use of electric bass in the piano trioof Kris Defoort, giving it a funkier drive than many such trios, or the interplay of drummer Lionel Beuvens with long-term sparring partner, Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila.
P.S. The Gaume festival itself will be celebrating 30 years in August 2014. Mark it in the diary now!