Loueke and LRK light up Brussels Jazz Weekend

Brussels-Jazz2

Real Brussels is nothing like the Brussels of politicised fiction, with its hordes of scheming Eurocrats and pencil pushers dressed in graphite grey – a land of sour milk and precious little honey, where crossing the road means parting a sea of red tape. It isn't glum or buttoned up. It's warm, convivial, bohemian and hip, a happy place to be a musician or a music fan. For a nation of scarcely 11 million, Belgium has always produced an impressive array of jazz talent. We have the Belgians to thank for Django Reinhardt, Toots Thielemans and the saxophone. And, as the inaugural Brussels Jazz Weekend proved, the Belgian scene continues to thrive.

It's an old new festival, which ran for 21 years as the Brussels Jazz Marathon, and the concept remains the same despite the rebrand: three days, over two hundred gigs at venues across the city with a focus on the Belgian scene, and all for free. In fact, it's one of the biggest free jazz festivals in the world. 

This year there were five outdoor stages, flanked by beer tents and street food stalls, on squares across town. Place Sainte-Catherine, at the centre of a scruffy, hip neighbourhood that feels a little like London's Soho, was the place to go for funk and ska-fueled party bands, including Saturday's headliners, a six-piece called Opmoc, who took the stage to the sound of blaring sirens and had the young, intoxicated crowd jumping up and down 30 seconds into the first number. Place du Grand Sablon, in front of the exquisite, 15th century Brabantine Gothic Église Notre-Dame du Sablon, and Place Fernand Cocq Plein, a leafy square 30 minutes walk from the centre, were more genteel. While Place du Luxembourg, by the European Parliament, was half way between the two – and ultra-relaxed when I pitched up on Friday evening, with children playing and couples lounging on the grass, enjoying a soundtrack of balmy jazz-pop.

The strongest sets took place on the absurdly handsome Grand Place, where the main stage was set up, overlooked by a magnificent 15th century town hall and the headquarters of the city's guilds, decorated with architectural flourishes and extravagant quantities of gold leaf. Promising bassist Theo Zipper and his quartet, winners of last year's XL-Jazz Contest (the festival's showcase for new talent) kicked things off, with music from forthcoming album Gorilla. It paired choppy, modal grooves with mellow hooks and explored some dark harmonic corners, calling to mind the writing of Tomasz Stańko. Impressive trumpeter Aristide d'Agostino, who took the lion's share of the solos, had a little of the Polish great about him too. 

Tenor-player Nicolas Kummert's quartet, featuring sought-after Beninese vocalist/guitarist Lionel Loueke, provided a laid-back counterpoint. There's was a soft-focused set, drawn from new album la diversité, that brought ticking grooves, thrumming acoustic bass figures and wiry melodies, borne by the trade winds from West Africa. A haunting rendition of 'Gnossienne' by French avant-gardist Erik Satie varied the soundworld a little and was warmly received by the crowd filling the cafe tables on the square. My only gripe was with the hesitant, falsetto refrains Kummert sang on Cohen's 'Hallelujah' and elsewhere, which detracted from the set. He's an excellent tenor player: lyrical, with a rich sound similar to Tim Garland. Better to leave the singing to the honey-voiced Loueke, who sounded sublime on his own 'Veuve Malienne', weaving a percussive introduction from breaths, tongue clicks and filigree guitar. It was a masterclass in subtlety and the use of space.

There's a rich vein of jazz-alt rock fusion in the current Belgian scene. Kneebody was my reference point during a grungy set from Brandhaard, a quartet fronted by tenorist Steven Delannoye and outstanding young trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart, who seemed to be playing in every second band. They were a little rough around the edges, but they more than made up for it with some bruising, overdriven originals, studded with bold hooks, stabs and skronking, anarchic solos. 'Small World' had a bluesy, country music feel about it, opening with bleary textures and drunken sustain-heavy smears played by guitarist Reiner Baas. It was the kind of thing you'd expect to hear if you woke up with a brutal hangover and a fist full of glass on the floor of a saloon bar in the midwest. Baas' own 'The Dance of Princess Discombobulatrix' was another highlight, bringing scribbled horn lines and a blazing, Gerard Presencer-esque solo from Estiévenart. Pianist Igor Gehenot's four-piece, Delta, featuring virtuosic French fluglehornist Alex Tassel, were mellower and a little more ECM, but with similar rock leanings. They played several pensive ballads, including Tassels' 'Johanna', and a beautifully tender arrangement of 'My Funny Valentine', then picked up the pace with flexing flugle lines, slamming piano chords and rhythmic leaps from rock to driving swing, on 'Starter Pack' and 'Step 2'.

Most impressive of all were flawless Russian trio LRK (one of a sprinkling of overseas guests), with Evgeny Lebedev on piano, Anton Revnyuk on bass and Ignat Kravtsov at the drums. They added a few Russian folk tunes to the contemporary jazz-rock blend and had the crowd on their feet, with non-stop fireworks, jaw-dropping virtuosity and riveting interplay. 'Nebylitsa', named after an out-of-control Russian fairytale, opened with a dizzying, cross-handed piano intro from Lebedev who kickstarted an algorithmic, math-rock groove. There were growling bass pedals, muscular wallops, folky asides and moments of pulsing ambience. 'No Tears' was an emotive ballad with a sweeping dynamic range and 'Plyasovaya', based on a traditional Russian dancing song, was sparkling, with Kravtsov and Revnyuk at full tilt leading fiendish switches of meter before a closing piano accordion feature for Lebedev. All three men have played with some big names (Lebedev's CV includes Jack DeJohnette, Marcus Miller and Terri Lyne Carrington), but they're relatively unknown as a trio. April's If You Have A Dream is their second release. Watch out.

As the sinking sun caught the tops of the buildings and made the gilding glow, I went exploring. Brussels has some excellent jazz clubs and they were all hosting free gigs as part of the festival. The bars around Place Saint-Géry were buzzing by 9pm, with music and punters spilling out into the street. An impromptu kick-around was taking place in the middle of Boulevard Anspach. It felt like you could go anywhere and have a good night.

I ended up in nearby Café Floréo: a boiling, airless room with some vaguely African art on the walls, sat at a table by the window, necking cold Maes Pils as bassist Everton Firmeza (Brazilian, but based in Brussels since 2015) and his multi-national trio stormed through some funked-up latin originals, with a few Hermeto Pascoal numbers thrown in. Firmeza's was one of the few gigs on the programme labelled avant-garde. It wasn't the free improv set I was hoping for, but the group were compelling to watch all the same: thrillingly reactive, totally in sync, switching between feels mid-song and mid-chorus. Firmeza and Italian keys player Piergiorgio Pirro teamed up on the melodies and Beninese drummer Christi Joza Orisha dropped halftime R&B, bossa nova, and rumba feels, stitching needle-sharp patterns on the rim of his snare with his shell-adorned dreads dancing about his shoulders. Towards the end of the set, they invited excellent flautist Sylvain Boisvert to join them and he added breathy multiphonics and snatches of fluttering counterpoint.

The following night, I squeezed into the jam packed Music Village, a characterful club done out in vermillion and gold, just behind the town hall. It's only been open since 2000 but it already feels like an institution. There I caught a set of sunshiney salsa and son from Rey Cabrera, a singer from Santiago de Cuba who moved to Brussels in 2003. Backed by his top flight septet, the Amigos, he span yarns about campesino life in a voice as rich as coffee, his tres dancing amid the hip-swinging grooves.

My last stop, and my favourite, was L'Archiduc, an art deco gem in a building that dates back to the 1930s, where pianist Jeremy Dumont and his trio of bassist Daniele Cappucci and drummer Fabio Zamagni were swinging hard enough to blow the coloured glass out of the windows, burning through 'Dolphin Dance' and Monk's 'Rhythm a Ning' amid whistles and cheers. It's a dream venue for small band jazz, a misshapen rotunda, no more than 10 metres across, painted a cheery, paddling pool blue. For Dumont's set there was a baby grand wedged between the two chrome-sheathed pillars in the centre of the room. You sit around the edges or lean over the railing of a small balcony, tucked just below the ceiling, and watch from above. Either that or you pick a spot by the bar, where I was, all but perched on Zamagni's shoulder, so close to the action I could feel the draft from the ride cymbal and see the sweat running down Cappucci's face as he dug in for one more sinew-stretching chorus.

Of the ones that got away, I was sorry to miss Belgian guitar great Philip Catherine, who was playing Sounds Jazz Club, as well as exciting young drummer Antoine Pierre. Pierre's Urbex, which came out last year, is exquisite – an album of engrossing, orchestral sound collages scored for octet. It's what you'd get if you paired Maria Schneider with Leafcutter John and Bad Bad Not Good – restlessly creative, thought-provoking and free. A lot like real world Brussels.

– Thomas Rees

 

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Martin Taylor and Jazz at The Philharmonic concert to save Swanage Jazz Festival

Martin Taylor and Jazz at The Philharmon…

News that this year's 28th edition of the Swanage Jazz...

Read More.....
Nérija, Dinosaur and Jim Mullen among Parliamentary Jazz Award winners

Nérija, Dinosaur and Jim Mullen among Pa…

The 13th annual Parliamentary Jazz Awards took place for the...

Read More.....
Hugh Masekela withdraws from Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya concert due to ill health

Hugh Masekela withdraws from Abdullah Ib…

Revered South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela has announced that, due...

Read More.....
Dee Byrne's Entropi Radiate Amid Rough And Tumble At Kings Place Album Launch

Dee Byrne's Entropi Radiate Amid Rough A…

  The most striking thing about Moment Frozen, the second release from British...

Read More.....
Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach fire-up new Eastside Jazz Club

Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach fire-up …

The opening night of Birmingham's new Eastside Jazz Club featured...

Read More.....
James Taylor And Soweto Kinch Among Poetic Masters Of Rhythm And Rhyme At 2017 Limerick Fest

James Taylor And Soweto Kinch Among Poet…

  The Limerick Jazz Festival continues to spring surprises, and to...

Read More.....
Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach, Christine & Ingrid Jensen and Mark Turner head to Birmingham’s Eastside Jazz Club

Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach, Christine …

Jazz in the Midlands got a huge boost with the...

Read More.....
Mike Gibbs' Dramatic Big Band Birthday Bash A Blast At Birmingham's CBSO Centre

Mike Gibbs' Dramatic Big Band Birthday B…

  In celebration of his 80th year, the composer and arranger...

Read More.....
Mike Carr – 1937-2017

Mike Carr – 1937-2017

Mike Carr, who died on 22 September aged 79, was...

Read More.....
Jazz FM's Sarah Ward, Chris Philips and Nigel Williams up for radio  awards

Jazz FM's Sarah Ward, Chris Philips and …

Two of Jazz FM's longest serving presenters, DJs Sarah Ward...

Read More.....
Joon Moon Exclusive stream of ‘Moonshine Corner’

Joon Moon Exclusive stream of ‘Moonshine…

This year's EFG London Jazz Festival features a performance by...

Read More.....
Westbrook and Wakeman line up with the Uncommon Orchestra for A Bigger Show

Westbrook and Wakeman line up with the U…

Although Mike and Kate Westbrook are based in the West...

Read More.....
Afro-Beat Icon Tony Allen Sups At The Jazz Source For Capital Sidewinding Summit

Afro-Beat Icon Tony Allen Sups At The Ja…

One of the distinguishing marks of the London Jazz Cafe's...

Read More.....
Liane Carroll and Claire Martin play Jazz for Labour in Brighton

Liane Carroll and Claire Martin play Jaz…

Jazz for Labour is presenting multi-award winning singers Liane Carroll...

Read More.....
Pianist Millar Shows Promise At Pizza

Pianist Millar Shows Promise At Pizza

  As the example of Artist Share amply demonstrates, crowdfunding initiatives...

Read More.....
Gustafsson's Vinyl-Collecting Confessions Published

Gustafsson's Vinyl-Collecting Confession…

Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson has trawled the archives of his...

Read More.....
WIN three stunning Bill Evans vinyl LP sets by entering the Jazzwise Reader Survey

WIN three stunning Bill Evans vinyl LP s…

We'd love to know what you think of Jazzwise. We...

Read More.....
Zoe Rahman leads Inner City Ensemble with nine new talents on board

Zoe Rahman leads Inner City Ensemble wit…

Leading UK pianist Zoe Rahman is set to head up...

Read More.....
Makaya McCraven, Ashley Henry RE:ENSEMBLE and Theon Cross Trio unite Chicago and London for International Anthems

Makaya McCraven, Ashley Henry RE:ENSEMBL…

Some of the most exciting names from London and Chicago's...

Read More.....
The Write Stuff adds new qualification for young writers aged 18-25

The Write Stuff adds new qualification f…

This year's Write Stuff music journalism course will return for...

Read More.....
Exclusive stream of ‘I Miss You’ – New single from Wayne Shorter produced seven-piece Holophonor

Exclusive stream of ‘I Miss You’ – New s…

Fast emerging US progressive jazz seven-piece Holophonor are set to...

Read More.....
Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2017 nominees announced

Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2017 nominees …

  The nominees for the 2017 Parliamentary Jazz Awards have been...

Read More.....
John Jack – 1933-2017

John Jack – 1933-2017

John Jack was one of those figures who seem to...

Read More.....
Liane Carroll, Miles Mosley and Seal for Jazz Voice’s tenth anniversary at EFG London Jazz Festival

Liane Carroll, Miles Mosley and Seal for…

The names have been revealed for this year's 10th edition...

Read More.....
Video Exclusive – 'Forlane' from VEIN Plays Ravel

Video Exclusive – 'Forlane' from VEIN Pl…

Swiss piano trio VEIN release their latest album, VEIN Plays...

Read More.....
Denys Baptiste, Mike Gibbs and ICP Orchestra for Turner Sims autumn/winter programme

Denys Baptiste, Mike Gibbs and ICP Orche…

Southampton's Turner Sims concert hall has a bumper crop of...

Read More.....
Nubya Garcia lines up for Steve Reid Innovation showcase – video preview

Nubya Garcia lines up for Steve Reid Inn…

This year's edition of the Steve Reid Innovation showcase will...

Read More.....
Tom Millar Quartet takes Unnatural Events on tour

Tom Millar Quartet takes Unnatural Event…

Pianist and composer Tom Millar starts his autumn tour this...

Read More.....
Hats off for Stetson's big blowout at Brighton's Duke of York

Hats off for Stetson's big blowout at Br…

  Colin Stetson has enough draw to fill this arthouse cinema...

Read More.....
Giovanni Hidalgo fundraiser at Jazz Cafe cancelled

Giovanni Hidalgo fundraiser at Jazz Cafe…

UPDATE: Since this story was first published (here and in...

Read More.....
Walter Becker 1950-2017

Walter Becker 1950-2017

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen may have been two against...

Read More.....
Robert Glasper, Jaga Jazzist and Aron Ottignon added to EFG London Jazz Fest 25th anniversary Line-Up

Robert Glasper, Jaga Jazzist and Aron Ot…

This year's momentous 25th EFG London Jazz Festival, which runs...

Read More.....
Legacies live on as Sidewinder and Coltrane hit silver screen

Legacies live on as Sidewinder and Coltr…

  September can be a quiet month for music fans, after...

Read More.....
Metropole Orkest Modernise Mingus On Prom Night

Metropole Orkest Modernise Mingus On Pro…

Charlie Mingus famously encouraged musicians to play without charts, creating...

Read More.....
Nick Duckett talks about the Harry South The Songbook – “…a British Quincy Jones”

Nick Duckett talks about the Harry South…

Pub conversations can get you in a world of grief...

Read More.....
Obituary: Sue Steward

Obituary: Sue Steward

One of Songlines' founding contributing editors, and Jazzwise writer, Sue...

Read More.....

ABJazzWise


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

@matanaroberts Zimpel/Ziolek on Instant Classic and various Mike Cooper things
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
People reacting to some desert dust like they do to a bit of snow. Amazement and paranoiac elements. Have a cuppa, listen to jazz. #redshift
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

Sign up to the Jazzwise monthly E-Newsletter

 

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA