A New Wave of Jazz

November 2, 2019

De Singer, Rijkevorsel
Belgium October 18-19, 2019

By Ken Waxman
Photos by Susan O’Connor

Want something done? Do it yourself,” is one slogan which Belgian guitarist Dirk Serries seems to have taken to heart when he and associates created the first-everA New Wave of Jazz (NWJ)Festival October 18 and 19 in Rijkevorsel, a village of about 10,000 in north-east Belgium.Antwerp province. In retrospect, another familiar bromide can be evoked about NWJ l: something for everyone. While the performances presented at De Singer, a converted garment factory turned sophisticated jazz venue, were by innovative musicians, sets encompassed free improvisation, Free Jazz, notated scores as well as electro-acoustic and minimalist sets.

One of the most emblematic performances occurred during the opening set on the first evening where younger local pianist Martina Verhoeven encountered veteran Belgian percussionist Kris Vanderstraeten. As Verhoeven plucked and stopped echoing timbres from inner piano strings, the percussionist swept across his kit rubbing subtle cadences from drum tops, as well as rolling marbles across them, and striking the drums with fistfuls of long died grasses. Not averse to disrupting the proceedings by rhythmically crumbling wrapping paper, cranking a miniature hurdy-gurdy, or smacking a wood blocks, cymbals and a bell tree with paddles, sticks and paint brushes, Vanderstraeten also added unique penny-whistle-like shrills by blowing into a cylindrical tube. Unfazed in-between sudden concentrated bursts of melody and rhythm, the pianist’s keyboard stretches accentuated darker echoes from one part of the soundboard and quick high pitches from the other. Eventually returning to internal-string strokes, Verhoeven evoked the introduction as Vanderstraeten’s measured snare clanks signaled a cohesive ending.

Many years Vanderstraeten’s junior, but committed to the same sort of non-percussive drumming is French musician Tom Malmendier, who closed Friday night’s performances in a trio with guitarist Serries and British clarinetist Tom Jackson. With the drummer limiting himself to clacks, patterning on the rims or side of his kit, or creating crisp cymbal frizzles, enough space remained for strums, stops and stretched guitar frails as well as supple reed-meandering to punctuate the interaction. Often Serries concentrated palm taps on the guitar’s neck, or needle-like string stings below the bridge to assert bent-note concordance as Jackson’s reed peeps deepened and slid further into multiphonics. Surging into wailing cries, the clarinetist’s split tones finally and easily blended with the guitarist’s constant strumming and the drummer’s conclusive pops and clanks.

Clarinetist Jackson, with Serries playing melodica were joined by Dutch flutist Antoine Beuger and British alto saxophonist Colin Webster during the festival opening set, an interpretation of a graphic composition by Serries. The idea was for the composer to start each sequence with the others joining in and maintaining the timbres until they ran out of breath. In practice this means that different individual players completed the motif each time. The expression of layered pitches and speeds revealed melodies as well as dissonance, with the pinnacle of group expression creating additional overtones from the group exhaling air.

More multiphonic and free improvisation from Webster and British guitarist Daniel Thompson defined the NWJ’s final set Saturday night, with the two melding expression and experimentation. Using key percussion, smears, stops and stutters to build momentum, the saxophonist’s flutter-tonguing and note sprays were met by equivalent fluency from the guitarist, who worked out patterns that involved string-bending from up near the tuning pegs down to beneath the bridge. Able to express stentorian plucks with the same ease as binding fills, Thompson’s unforced forward motion was the perfect foil for Webster’s tongue-slapping vibrations. Seemingly by mutual agreement they concluded the duet and the festival itself with Webster blowing one long-held note.

Further instances of Beuger’s compositional skills were on display during the two-day festival. On Friday night for instance, Dutch pianist Dante Boon interpreted a small section of Beuger’s massive score titled “Traces of Eternity of What is not to Be.” Pointillist and minimalist in his playing, Boon dealt with pitch and conception rather than melody or rhythm, when playing his own compositions to open the set as well as Beuger’s creation. Including the extended silences that were evoked among the single tones or brief patterns which Boon highlighted during this recital, the performance and the score itself both seemed mostly diffuse and didn’t create strong emotional responses. Those limitations could also be applied to an interlude mid-way through Saturday’s program where an unaccompanied Beuger whistled another of his compositions. While his mouth, throat and larynx control were formidable, the distant, muted and restrained textures he produced seemed to blow away in a wispy haze rather than make an affecting statement.

Staying on the formal side of music, the performance by German composer Asmus Tietchens of an electro-acoustic creation, using computers and treatments,was a quarter-hour showcase of timbral variety. Loosely based on the changing of the seasons, sound parameters were extended with the bisecting and convergence of human voices sharing space with an undertow of clanking and crackling mechanical oscillations. Accelerating and diminishing as it evolved, the looped ghostly sound finally attained an intense burble of sweeping vibrations.

The other sound artist in attendance, France’s Anton Mobin, was part of Friday’s program. However the often unidentifiable noises emanating from the so-called “Prepared Chamber Instrument” that Mobin created and used in tandem with British violist Benedict Taylor’s smooth glissandi and pizzicato strokes from his instrument were more upfront. Capable of creating kissing noises with his strings as well as slippery sul tasto and spiccato stops and runs with multi-string pressure, Taylor’s technical twists used all parts of his traditional instrument. Meanwhile Mobin’s slaps, crackles and flanges, often set off by paintbrush or mallet motions, used the box’s microsensors, rubber bands, wires and coiled springs to roll out sound snatches including brief Rock-like pulses, staccato rubs, spinning rumbles and motor-driven rotations. Amazingly, the two connected without fissures.

Metaphorically, Mobin-Taylor’s combination of futuristic and traditional instruments, and sounds for common ardent improvisations was reflected in some way in each of the festival’s eight sets. Providing a forum for a cross-section of quality in-the-moment musical experiences not only confirmed those achievements created during both nights, but also encouraged the conclusion that further editions of the festival should take place