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The Berlin-based Canadian alto saxophonist, Peter van Huffel may be one of the most intense performers on this instrument. He creates sharp images with his playing, is exceedingly energeticin sections of music that demand quieter moments his calmness is most elastic and tautand although he has a tendency to play with broad glissandi almost throughout Like The Rusted Key, he has an inventive sense of rhythm. In this respect he is like Eric Dolphy
, but carried the ideas of that genius into a wholly different sphere of consciousness. While Van Huffel may have some ground to cover before he hits the markers that Dolphy did in his lifetime, he may be half way there already.
Like The Rusted Key, the seventh album by Van Huffel, is extremely intelligent, with a repertoire comprising composed themes and a great deal of wonderfully improvised pieces by a quartet that includes saxophonist and pianist, Jesse Stacken
, bassist Miles Perkin, and drummer Samuel Rohrer; musicians who seem up to the challenge of Van Huffel's complex musical structures. The saxophonist has a chameleon-like nature when it comes to stretching with his sinewy musical ideas. "Drift," which starts sotto voce, almost hesitatingly develops a strong theme about 3 minutes into the song and features some memorable improvisations from everyone. "Tangent" is characterized by its rhythmic propulsion and a unique modular theme, and even though it stops suddenly en route to its climax for a kind of alto intermezzo that deconstructs the theme completely, the musicians find reserves to regroup and rebuild the momentum of the piece once again.
"Enghavevej" is a joyful piece, full of vim and vigor, especially from Stacken's piano improvisations, while "Excerpt Two" is of a minimalist nature. "Backward Momentum" features some of the finest interplay possible within an environment that is composed. The long and brooding "Melancholic" is centered on slow, almost interminable piano progressions that are both sensitive and light-hearted. "Beast II" is a dark piece full of atmosphere and menace, with a beautifully laid out architecture. Van Huffel's work on this album is startlingly attractive because his compositions are muscular and tough. Moreover, he is a fine stylist when it comes to arranging, always employing voices that are strong and rich, culled from a broad, deep palette of sound. Despite the fact that the music almost always transcends the mainstream with often raw and extravagant improvisations, the close attention that the composer pays to themes and song structures makes it always accessible and easy to fall in with.
Perhaps the only thing missing may be the woody shades and earthy tones of the clarinet, an instrument that Van Huffel also plays exceedingly well. But that may grist for the musician's grinding on another day. And who knows, that may well be the day when this talented artist returns from the rarefied musical regions that this fine album inhabits.