Peter Van Huffel: Silvester Battlefield (2007)
Armed with a sharp tone and attack, keen rhythmic sense and a wry compositional attitude, saxophonist Peter Van Huffel makes one sit up and listen on Silvester Battlefield. The album is brimming with ideas that manage to sound abstract in their tonality and phrasing while, at that same time, being extremely logical.
Hardly a newcomer to the New York jazz scene, the adaptive Van Huffel can also be heard in Lily Maase's band theSuiteUnraveling and Dan Nettle's Athens, Georgia based group, Kenosha Kid [see Projector (Pomerac, 2005)].
Despite his ability to play convincingly within any context, Van Huffel has developed a personal style that is an amalgam of individual parts that together create the whole. Jazz has so many separate rivulets that labels are becoming less and less useful, and thus to use "post-bop" or "post-post-bop" is to be virtually meaningless.
Van Huffel's music is quintessentially modern is its approach to rhythm, melody, phrasing and harmony. Irregularity and tension are the norm, but developed and controlled in such a way as to create recognizable structure. Each track takes its time to develop, and allowing the music to evolve is the key to getting inside of it.
Listeners familiar with Loren Stillman might, in some isolated spots ("Linnea's Folk Song" and "Luminescence"), hear a connection between his technique and how Van Huffel arranges a tune, harmonizes it or plays his elliptical lines.
However, even if they dip from the same zeitgeist, Van Huffel is more angular and dramatic than Stillman. His tunes evolve from the barest of materials, and a section of just sax and drums, both playing freely, can end up providing the kernel for the central motive of the tune later on.
The first tune, "Closed Tight," seems to announce "I know where I came from," with its boppish theme and somewhat straight-ahead rhythms; but after it is taken apart and put back together again, says "this is where I am going."
The rest of the album is all implication, ellipsis and very controlled development that is hidden underneath playing that is quite free. Chaos never feels like it could happen, but rather that it is a force in conflict with regularity. This tension gives the music its excitement and surprise, and can almost be called "composed chaos" in that the music threatens to fall apart, but never does. After a while, one realizes that this is planned, done skillfully, and is the essence of Van Huffel's music, even on the more ballad-like tunes.
Once again, Jordi Pujol of Fresh Sound New Talent has given a deserving musician a chance to put his music out there, and Van Huffel's deep, humorous, emotional and logically free music ought to be heard.
Track Listing: Closed Tight; Delirium; Good Mornings; The Traveler; Silvester Battlefield; Linnea's Folk Song; Luminescence; Rundle's Peak.
Personnel: Peter Van Huffel: alto and soprano saxophone; Scott Dubois: guitar; Jesse Stacken: piano; Michael Bates: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.