REPORT: Belgian Jazz Meeting, Brussels

The Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq trio
Photo credit: © Massimo Municchi

Belgian Jazz Meeting, Brussels
(Marni Theatre and Flagey Studios, 1-3 September 2017. Report by Tony Dudley-Evans)

The Belgian Jazz Meeting is a showcase for top Belgian bands, which takes place every two years in early September. This year it was in Brussels in the very interesting area of Flagey/Ixelles just a short distance from the city centre. Most of the concerts took place in the Marni Theatre, but two sets took place on the Saturday morning in the very attractive Flagey radio studio, a venue that reminded me of the BBC Maida Vale studio in London and the Sendesaal studio in Bremen.

There were 12 bands, six chosen by organisations in the French speaking area and six chosen by organisations in the Flemish speaking area, providing a model of cooperation for the whole country. The whole event was admirably organised in two excellent venues; bands played mostly 30 min sets, playing three or four tunes and everything ran more or less to time. Hospitality was good and there was time for networking with delegates from all over Europe. Interestingly, there were only two UK promoters, Ollie Weindling from the Vortex and myself.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Belgian scene is one of the strongest in Europe and the overall standard of the bands, mostly younger bands on the two scenes (French and Flemish), was extremely high. Most of the bands were firmly in the contemporary jazz camp, with most making use of electronics to a greater or lesser extent, and presenting the music with something of a rock music attitude. There were no bands playing in the bop tradition, nor any playing in an improvised music style, though I know those styles are to be found in Belgium.
The two bands that most typified the dominant approach were Drifter and Steiger. Drifter is a quartet that benefits hugely from the wonderful rhythms and drive provided by drummer Teun Verbruggen.  The quartet was formerly the Alexi Tuomarila Quartet (both groups have recorded on Edition Records) and Tuomarila, the pianist from Finland, is still very much part of the group, leading with a strong harmonic approach that at times lent the group a strong feel of the seminal John Coltrane Quartet. On other tunes, however, there was a more ambient feel to the music with Nicolas Kummert’s tenor and soprano saxophone and occasional wordless vocals to the fore. Kummert is a versatile player and was seen earlier this year at the Vortex in duo with Lionel Loueke; there his vocals and sax solos fitted well with Loueke’s blend of jazz and African music.

Kobe Boon, bassist with Steiger
Photo credit: © Massimo Municchi

Steiger is a piano trio that manages through the use of both acoustic and electronics elements on the grand piano and synthesisers to create its own identity in the crowded field of jazz piano trios. Their music reminded me at times of both Go Go Penguin and The Necks in that it seemed fairly structured and pre-planned (i.e. more Go Go Penguin), but built up an intensity through the use of repetition (i.e. more like The Necks). But to be fair, in a brief conversation after their set, the pianist seemed not to have heard much of Go Go Penguin and nothing of The Necks!

The undoubted highlights of a strong weekend came on the Saturday afternoon with Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq, a saxophone, cello, drums trio with Ceccaldi and Darrifourcq from France.  They have recorded an excellent album for Babel, but this performance was stronger with the empathy between Ceccaldi and Darrifourcq providing a stimulating and occasionally ferocious backing for Hermia’s saxophones lines. Dans Dans, a guitar, bass, drums trio, perhaps suffered a little from coming immediately after Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq, but they are also an exciting band making their own distinctive use of electronics.

Jozef Doumoulin played a solo keyboard set with the use of many effects. He focussed on the effects and was at his most interesting when developing lines and interesting sounds on them. Bizarrely, he struck me as being rather less interesting when using the actual keyboard.

Two bands used two drummers with some success: saxophonist Mattias De Craane played over the constantly changing rhythms of Simon Segers and Lennert Jacobs. Brzzvll, a septet with two saxophones (one doubling EWI), guitar, keys, electric bass plus the two drummers, benefitted from the way Maarten Moesen and Stijn Cools were tightly coordinated yet producing nicely subtle variations of each other’s patterns.

Two groups stood apart from the general focus on electronics: Linus, a duo of Ruben Machtelinckx  on guitar and banjo with Thomas Jillings on saxophone and alto clarinet provided a delightful contrast to the rest of the programme with a set devoted to their more intimate sounds with an influence from folk and classical music, and to gentle interactions that always held one’s attention.  Trio Grande, who describe themselves as the smallest big band in the world, entertain largely through the variety of instruments they play. Laurent Dehors plays tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and contra bass clarinet, and on one tune the Jew’s Harp, while Michel Massot plays sousaphone, trombone and tuba. Michel Debrulle sticks to the jazz drum kit with one diversion to an ancient bass drum played on its own that was clearly very special. This was a fun band, but I was disappointed that none of their tunes was really developed into a longer more varied piece.

Of the other groups Antoine Pierre Urbex played a nicely varied set moving from a quintet to an octet; the Lorenzo Di Maio and Animus Anima groups were largely memorable for me for the excellence of their trumpet players: Jean-Paul Estievenart in the former, Bart Maris in the latter.
This was a superb showcase for the Belgian scenes that I enjoyed immensely. I have just a couple of caveats: I was surprised and disappointed that there was not a single woman player in any of the 12 bands. Nor was there anything in the music that drew on the strong African and Moroccan musical presence in Brussels.

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. The Vortex will have two Belgian bands playing over coming months: De Beren Gieren, the dynamic piano trio, on 8 October. And a quartet led by drummer Teun Verbruggen with Jozef Dumoulin – both outstanding in their respective shows in Brussels BTW – Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Nate Wooley on 14 January. Both show the immense range of this scene. The trio of Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq will come in Spring 2018.

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