CD review

Antoine Pierre URBEX ELECTRIC – “Suspended”

Antoine Pierre URBEX ELECTRIC – Suspended
(Outnote Records – CD OTN637/LP OTN692. Album Review by Graham Spry)

Antoine Pierre is a Belgian drummer who readily acknowledges the sources of his inspiration. The name of his band URBEX is a contraction of ‘Urban Exploration’ and their self-titled first album was inspired by the aesthetics of old buildings that once abandoned become aesthetically fascinating as nature takes over and decay sets in. Suspended is the band’s third and latest album recorded live at the Studio 4 concert hall at Flagey, Brussels, in January 2020, and the inspiration for this project is the music of Miles Davis on his best-selling Bitches Brew album.

Indeed, this influence is immediately apparent from the first notes of the opening track, Steam, as Jean-Paul Estiévenart’s trumpet blows over the driving beat of Bert Cools on guitar, Bram De Looze on piano, Felix Zurstrassen on bass, Frédéric Malempré on percussion and, of course, Antoine Pierre on drums. Alongside the band’s usual line-up are guest musicians: Ben Van Gelder on saxophone, Reinier Baas on guitar and Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes. However, whilst the music Miles Davis made during this period can be both exhilarating and bruising, often powering on for extended compositions of more than forty minutes, this is not the approach followed by URBEX. None of the nine tracks recorded for this album are anywhere near as long, but the overall feel is nevertheless reminiscent of Miles Davis’ live recordings, especially in how the trumpet tends towards interspersed sections that at times weave in and out of the rhythmic accompaniment and at other times soar over it. It is perhaps because the rhythm section acts as the main driving force that this period of Miles’ music attracts a drummer such as Pierre.

When Bitches Brew was recorded, the sound Miles Davis developed was his solution to a lifelong mission to make music that was modern and contemporary at a time in the 1970s when the lucrative younger white audience that might otherwise be attracted to modern jazz was instead drawn to progressive rock while it was still viewed as fresh and exciting. Antoine Pierre is himself drawn toward the contemporary and relevant music of our time as leader not only of URBEX but of Next.Ape whose music has elements of rock and trip hop along with jazz. Moreover, although the music on Suspended is explicitly inspired by music of an earlier age it still remains experimental and contemporary.

From the evidence of this recording, URBEX’s music was very well-received at Flagey. After the well-judged opener, Steam, where the trumpet is pretty much the lead instrument, there follows Obsession, whose sound is evocative of the quintet music of Dave Holland, who played bass on Bitches Brew. The set then becomes more relaxed on Abstract:Peace where Pierre’s drums roll over a relatively sparse background of guitar and trumpet maintaining a mood and tone that continues on the following tracks: What U Expect!, Abstract:Tide and Feather. After this, Pierre steadily builds up the pace on You Nod But You Ain’t where the drums become the dominant instrument on the following track Drums Take Over and into the final track Sound Barrier which climaxes in a crescendo where all the instruments more or less play as one.

Since returning in 2015 from New York where he studied for a year after graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Antoine Pierre has become a key figure on the Belgian jazz scene and was artist-in-residence for this year’s Brussels Jazz Festival (Flagey). This live album demonstrates that he can lead a very diverse band from behind the drums and although the music on Suspended is explicitly inspired by Miles Davis, Pierre is not afraid to put his own stamp on the style and push it forward to a fresh young audience.

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