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ROUND-UP: Belgian Jazz Meeting 2019 in Ghent

FUMDAMENT at Muziekcentrum De Bijloke
Photo by Emily Jones

The Belgian Jazz Meeting takes place every two years and is a showcase for the vibrant Belgian jazz scene. Tony Dudley-Evans reports:

Some of the bands playing on the Saturday struck me as the most interesting and of the greatest potential of those appearing at the Belgian Jazz  Meeting. First up was a unique project entitled FUNDAMENT that made very effective use of an outdoor space at Muziekcentrum De Bijloke. De Bijloke is a set of medieval buildings, but this space was somewhat reminiscent of the brutalism of London’s South Bank, all large concrete walls and stairways. This project was essentially an ‘army’ of bass instruments: five double basses and three saxophones – two baritones and a bass – plus two tubas and one trombone. They started with a short passage of punchy sounds that fitted the acoustic of the space very well and moved into a series of structured sequences that created a deep bass sound that sounded amazing in the environment of the concrete walls. The creator of the project is bass player Peter Jacquemyn whose work often brings together music and visual arts. He is also fascinated by Mongolian throat singing and the project incorporates this vocal style into the performance; the very low sounds of throat singing fit extremely well. The other aspect of Jacquemyn’s concept is the use of structured movement within the performance space to create a theatrical aspect; members of the ensemble move backwards and forwards throughout, and make use of the staircases and balconies. At one point all eleven musicians huddled together in a way that reminded me of documentaries about king penguins protecting themselves against severe cold in the Antartica. There is also a lot of humour, partly from the movement, but more specifically from instances like two tubas facing each other with the bells of their horns touching as they blasted away.

Les Chroniques de l’Inutile at De Krook
Photo by Emily Jones

If Fundament’s music fitted the setting they performed in, so did Les Chroniques de l’Inutile‘s concert. They played at De Krook, in an attractive and informal tiered space in the actual library, and this environment suited very well the varied programme that moved gently between composition and improvisation. The band is led by guitarist Benjamin Sauzereau who composes all the music. The integration of the solos with the compositions was very successful with each solo maintaining and reflecting the mood of the composition. The mood was mainly quite contemplative with the compositions creating quite delicate textures, but also willing to build up to a bigger sound as the pieces moved to a climax.

The contemplative mood was maintained in the first of the concerts in the main venue for the Meeting, the very attractive Handelsbeurs Concert Hall. This was the performance of Donder (meaning thunder), a piano bass drums trio with yet another approach to the piano trio format in jazz. Their music moves quite slowly through fragments of melody and intricate rhythms and produces a kind of spidery minimalism.

Two other bands, one a sextet, the other a quintet, produced what was for me some of the most interesting music of the weekend. Ottla, playing in the Handelsbeurs hall, made full use of the range of the band’s instrumentation, guitar, two saxophones, one alto, the other tenor, bass and two drummers, one doubling on electronics. This line-up created a lot of variety; I particularly liked the groove created by the two drummers and the strong writing behind the soloists that gave the music a strongly integrated feel.

I noticed a similar phenomenon with HAST, a quintet this time with two guitars, tenor saxophone, bass and drums; they played in a buzzing café in the old centre, Bar Miwaar. This group was perhaps less varied than Ottla, but more than made up for that with a strong rhythmic drive and powerful rock influenced solos from the guitars. It was in one way similar to Ottla in that there was some really good writing in the backing for soloists that created a similar integration in the overall music.

The Belgian Jazz Meeting was a successful showcase for contemporary Belgian jazz and confirms that the Belgian scene is strong. I would have liked to hear more of the free scene that I believe is also strong in Belgium, but I accept that FUNDAMENT was there as an excellent example of the inventiveness of that scene.

One surprise was the lack of gender balance and ethnic diversity. There were just three female musicians in the whole of the main programme and literally no non-white musicians. Surely there must be some collaboration between jazz and African musicians happening in Brussels, but there was no sign of it here.

It is very striking that all the bands who played seemed to have albums out on Belgian labels and that they are all represented by one or other management company working just in the area of contemporary jazz and music. The strength of the scene must be in part the result of this.

It was also noticeable that Ghent still has record stores and that they have live performances. I caught a short part of a set in the Music Mania store in the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat by the Blow 3.0 trio. This is a two saxophone and drums trio that play in white masks and play in a funky, in-your-face style that attracted a good and young crowd to the store.

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