Bateau Lavoir & André Goudbeek

Bateau Lavoir

Open Densities

By Ken Waxman
December 25, 2005

Belgium’s second city, “diamond centre” of the world and the commercial capital of Flanders, Antwerp’s small improv scene has for years had as its core the Werkgroep Improviserende Muzikanten (WIM) collective and the annual Free Music festival it organizes. With pianist Fred Van Hove as chairman, the WIM accepts members from elsewhere in the country, and like the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago, which has similar goals, collaborates with non-WIM players.

Just what results can be heard on these CDs.

Open Densities is a 2002 showcase of two WIMers – reedist/ bandoneonist André Goudbeek and bassist/sculptor Peter Jacquemyn – plus idiosyncratic Lisbon-based flutist Carlos Bechegas. It was recorded at Antwerp’s 29th Free Music festival. Conversely, Quartet, created almost two years later, captures a first-ever meeting between Goudbeek, who here only plays tenor saxophone, and members of the local Bateau Lavoir trio.

Organically comparing the two, it’s apparent that intimacy wins out over novelty – after all Goudbeek and Jacquemyn have played together for years. Still the culmination of Quartet’s single 45-minute performance, confirms that the four musicians have bonded successfully.

Intriguingly a sub-motif appears on both CDs – vocalization. Beateau Lavoir’s sound-singing come from Dutch-born, Antwerp-resident Patries Wichers, who has a vocal delivery midway between stream-of-consciousness and scat, with verbal timbres rife with Bedlam mumbles à la Phil Minton as well as rhythmic nonsense syllable expositions resembling Maggie Nichols’ work. Additionally, when she isn’t instrumentally manipulating loops and samples, she and the saxophonist at times strike up a Bizarro Prez and Billie partnership. Content to extend the sounds and accompany the two are Brighton, England-born guitarist Giles Thomas and young local drummer Thomas Campaert.

On the other disc, the shouting, wheedling and echoing vocalization is usually the purview of Bechegas, whose experience includes experiments with real-time electronics, music and drama therapy, and who has performed with a clutch of improvisers, most notably Portuguese fiddler Carlos Zingaro and British guitarist Derek Bailey.

Goudbeek, born in Zwolle in the Netherlands and a longtime resident of Mechelen, a town located midway between Antwerp and Brussels, put in time with both Willem Breurker’s Kollektief and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. But for the past few years, he has concentrated on small groups with locals such as trumpeter Bart Maris and percussionist Dirk Wauters, or with partners farther afield, like American bassist Joe Fonda. Dubbelduo was a group that involved him and American Jeffrey Morgan on saxophones, Jacquemyn, whose sculpted work often involves wood altered with a chain saw, and the late German Peter Kowald on basses. In physical resemblance and technique, the bassist, who is 19 years Kowald’s junior, is in many ways his heir.

He certainly shows this on Open Densities with his rub, tugs and sul tasto double stops. It’s also likely he who sporadically adds basso vocal tones to Bechegas’ cries, growls and throat-twisting snivels. Together they create surreal Punch-and-Judy verbal playlets. Bringing bandoneon as well as bass clarinet and alto saxophone into the fray, Goudbeek’s accordion squeezes and double-timed wavers contribute as much to this date’s individuality as the flutist’s echoing fripple-splitting and screaming glottal punctuation or the bassist’s sul ponticello accents that work up to wood cranking and speedy shuffle bowing.

This exposition in sound reaches a crescendo on “Density IV”, which takes up almost 18 minute of the 45 minute disc. Climatically, as Bechegas vibrates raspberries, shrieks and yells from his hollow tube, the saxophonist responds with spetrofluctuation and reed percussion sourced from the inside and the outside of his horn. Meanwhile, before he finally limits himself to decorating the bottom with pedal point continuo, Jacquemyn expresses himself with sul tasto vibrations and flamenco-style low-pitched rasgueado.

Sliding down the scale in broken octaves, Bechegas’ lines dribble from sopranino to basso and from adagio to presto. In double counterpoint, Goudbeek counters the flutist’s lip farts and sibilant accents with interludes of compressed grace notes, snorts and honks. Elsewhere concentrated bandoneon hand-vibrated reed pressure serves a similar cushioning function that Goudbeek’s reeds do when Bechegas unleashes low-pitched extended wails.

On the other CD, however, with Thomas’ chordal instrument and loops able to accompany her with patterns encompassing Tal Farlow-like single string fills, sonorous rock-guitar-like phrasing and fuzz-tone distortion, Wichers doesn’t miss the comforting pitches of Goudbeek’s accordion-like instrument.

Instead, as the vocalist switches identities from faux jazz chanteuse with a balladic cast; to a rhythm singer spewing Charo-like nonsense syllables; or to that of a mad woman carrying on dialogues with figments of her imagination, the saxophonist trills the appropriate obbligato for each persona’s performance. In other spots while Thomas strums distracted guitar tones and Campaert displays minimalist brush work or chimes flattish textures that could resonate from glass or porcelain, the saxman’s strategy involves multiphonic sprawls, smeared split tones and overblown trills.

Recorded in real time, Quartet shows by its 14-minute final track that the four improvisers had relaxed into complete rapprochement. The drummer’s bounces and flams are assertive, Thomas advances chicken-scratching rhythm guitar licks, and the singer’s near-demented whoops, laughs and hand clapping harmonize intimately with her two regular band mates and Goudbeek’s distinctive accompaniment.

Having defined his cooperative nature on both outings, listeners will hope for more collaboration among the members of both groups in the near future, especially one that will afford a glimpse of how a fully-jelled Quartet sounds.