Live review

Brussels Jazz Festival 2023 (Part 2)

Brussels Jazz Festival 2023

(Flagey, Brussels. Sunday 15 January 2023. Festival report by Jon Turney)

Mette Henriette’s trio. Photo credit: Olivier Lestoquoit

This is the second of two reports from Brussels by Jon Turney*

The final sessions of this four-day winter feast began with a welcome chance to see the engagingly ruminative Music for Black Pigeons, a 90-minute documentary centred on guitarist Jakob Bro (who recently recorded his trio at festival venue Flagey). It gets as close to the heart of improvised music as a film-maker can, and the focus on Bro and associates like Joe Lovano, Thomas Morgan, Lee Konitz and, yes, even Manfred Eicher enticed to speak to camera, set the mood for a festival day featuring new work from artists on the ECM label.

Julia Hulsmann. Photo credit: Patrick Van Vlerken

First on the live stages was Julia Hülsmann’s quartet, with a nice mix of boppish lines, a moody bossa nova, and more abstract themes. Tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff is given so much space he could be mistaken for the leader if the pianist wasn’t making the announcements. This is not the most distinctive quartet ECM have ever recorded, but doing very assured work in a sort of Euro-American tradition.

Just time to catch breath before the very distinctive sound of Mette Henriette’s trio in the larger Flagey studio. She has a beautiful saxophone timbre which blends deliciously with Tanja Orning’s cello. Alas, the extreme minimalism of her current repertoire, featuring tiny piano figures and featherlight gestures from the other two, could be hypnotic in the right context but this afternoon seemed merely soporific. Some who remained awake, however, declared it the highlight of the weekend.

Matangi String Quartet. Photo credit: Olivier-Lestoquoit

There was a bit more to chew on in pianist Wolfert Brederode’s Ruins and Remains suite. Written for the centenary of the armistice in 1918, it featured the Matangi String Quartet and drummer Jasper van Hulten in a moody but melodic sequence of pieces. The emotional tone is aptly sombre but the composer and the string players conjured many moments of dark beauty from the scores.

Manu Katché. Photo by Olivier Lestoquoit

And to finish, a more conventionally jazzy ensemble in Benjamin Lackner’s quartet, a European allstar affair with Mathias Eick’s trumpet joined by Jérôme Regard on bass and Manu Katché on drums. Lackner is a poised rather than pyrotechnic player, which with Eick’s stately lines puts the group very much inside the most familiar ECM aesthetic. They do not deliver much variation in pace or mood, but the overall sound is perfectly integrated, Katché’s playing an unobtrusive delight throughout, the great drummer increasing the heat mid-set by simply switching from brushes to sticks. The bass and drum features at set’s end felt a little detached from the rest of the music, but fortunately a Katché solo is a thoroughly satisfying item in its own right.

This four-fold presentation of recent releases on the label may have not featured the biggest stars associated with ECM, but – like the festival overall – showed that European jazz enjoys strength in depth, perhaps today more than ever. Here’s hoping for a more relaxed, and more generous sampling when Flagey returns next year to the longer format established before the pandemic.

Aside from music, a main memory from Brussels is the roomful of Brueghels (I and II) in the Beaux-Arts museum – a match for another spot on my mental map of Europe, the (even better?) roomful in Vienna. Both spaces I could happily linger all day. Except that Brussels has the advantage of being just two hours from London by train…

*Jon Turney was the guest of Brussels Jazz Festival and Brussels Tourism

Categories: Live review

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