Vital Weekly is a weekly newsletter with lots of reviews, raging from industrial to … In their own style of reviewing now & then they also shine their light on free improvisation and free jazz. Vital Weekly’s Frans De Waard reviewed our 4 new albums.


As I am looking at these four new releases, I had no idea where to start. For no particular reason, I picked up the one by Colin Webster (alto saxophone) and Andrew Lisle (drums), with a recording they made on 24th Ma, 2019 in a London studio. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but all releases by this Belgium label (not totalling close to forty releases) have liner notes by Guy Peters and here he talks about punk and their
lack of respect for rules. I understand what he says, even if the music here is hardly punk. Hardly? Not at all, at least not in the sense people use the word ‘punk’ conventionally. This is a free jazz release with an incredible amount of energy, vibrancy and speed in their tracks (which is to be understood as in ‘pieces’ but also the road they travel together). As I was playing this CD I was thinking that one thing was very much non-punk and that is the clear musicianship of the two players (and yes, I know in the classic punk tradition many were great players); there is little doubt there. Apart from one quieter piece, ‘Kuggar’, the remainder of this release is all heavy-duty free improvised/jazz improvisation and one that leaves you sufficiently tired afterwards. For me, the untrained and casual listener of this kind of music, something I enjoyed very much (occasionally) but I took a short walk outside before returning to the task of hearing new music.
Free improvisation is
also a thing for John Russell (acoustic amplified guitar), Stefan Keune (alto saxophone) and Kris Vanderstraeten (percussion, drums). Together they played a concert at Bar L’Archiduc in Brussels on January 31st, 2019. According to the liner notes an intimate setting and the musicians take whatever time they need to do play the music. I am sure they are experienced players and it’s no surprise they play two long pieces, altogether some seventy-one minutes. While this is also free music, and at times pretty chaotic, especially the saxophone from Keune is a wild bird here, this is altogether of a different dynamic than the Webster/Lisle angle. This trio lacks the energy/punk spirit and that is a great thing. I am not sure if such an explosion of power had worked over such a long time frame. You’d never know but too much is too much. In keeping their chaos under control, chaos-wise, energy-wise and volume-wise, the trio of Keune, Russell and Vanderstraeten have something different to
offer, taking the listener on a bumpy trip with many highs and many lows – in volume, exploring the smallest details and the biggest gestures. They play together, listening and interacting and altogether that brings some wonderful music.
Label boss Dirk Serries is on acoustic guitar in a quartet recording with Cath Robers (baritone saxophone and objects), Martine Verhoeven (piano) and Tom Ward (flute, clarinet and bass clarinet). The surrounding of the recording is different than on any other release by New Wave Of jazz, as far as I can remember, and that is because of the whole Covid thing. Verhoeven and Serries in Sint-Lenaarts (Belgium), Ward and Roberts in Brockley (UK), with the possibility of hearing each other via internet hook-up (“at studio quality”) and then playing together. That of course is also a possibility these days. Two long pieces, altogether sixty-one minutes, of some free improvisation of a very acoustic kind. Tones swirl like snowflakes, especially the
flute and the piano, whereas the Roberts tends to play longer notes and Serries is in the usual short attack on the strings. ‘Part One’ is the more introspective part and ‘Part Two’ is at times the chaotic counterpart. As fascinating as it sounded most of the time, I had the impression that some editing would strengthen the music here, as it sometimes seemed to meander too much and I lost some of my attention there.
And finally the Rubicon Quartet. Whenever musicians choose names for their ensemble and no longer ‘name & name’, they mean serious business; this is something beyond a one-off, I should think. In this quartet, we find Serries and Verhoeven again, at their usual instruments and Patrick de Groote on trumpet and flügelhorn and Cel Overberghe on alto saxophone. Like the previous release, there is quite the emphasis on the use of wind instruments, but now in shorter pieces of music and perhaps also a bit more melodic, especially on the part of De Groote and Overberghe,
whereas Serries plays his usual abstract tones and Verhoeven is a bit on the background, except in the closing piece ‘Caught A Flying Ghost’. This is the most jazz-based release of this lot, but perhaps also in the catalogue of this label. Free jazz, of course, but with the various melodic parts also the most accessible of these four. There is the ‘usual’ chaos, but sometimes this chaos is controlled and ‘small’ or intimate, which adds to the variety of the pieces. I can see that this one in particular popular with a wider audience as it is less radical even when for me that is not so attractive. On that sometimes gentler note, this marked the end of a fine afternoon of free improvisation for me. (FdW)