Jazz Middelheim 2010
For the Saturday and Sunday of Middelheim, the festival hours were extended to expand from three to four acts. Saturday opened with a Belgian-American collaboration. Le Pragmatisme Du Barman are a cumbersomely-named quintet, so felt inclined to invite along the more succinctly-titled Peter Evans. This New York City trumpeter had been 'coaching' students at the local Artesis Hogeschool. The ensemble's labyrinthine compositional corridor would sometimes weave and wend its way interminably. Piano splinters dashed over tangled electric guitar and bass patterns, as drummer Teun Verbruggen oversaw the polyrhythmic contortions. Evans dotted bright patterns above, below and around its intricate alcoves. His trademark internal plumbing investigations succeeded in surprising the ears at several junctures, horn pressed up hyper-close to the microphone. The trumpeter came across as an extension rather than a fully inducted partner, but that presented no problem, ultimately.
The day lifted up surprisingly early, with an afternoon of sheer joyfulness from the Belgian trio Aka Moon, working with the Malian multi-instrumentalist Baba Sissoko and his Black Machine. Aka Moon are renowned for their love of challenging time-signatures and free-form soloing, but they also have the capacity to funk hard. It was this latter tendency that dominated when they came into contact with the Afro-contingent. In this case, Aka Moon were changing their tactics to embrace the world of Malian traditional music, rather than goading Sissoko into a post-Prime Time jazz complexity. So, without compromise, this composite group struck the audience with a surprise shunt into a very different musical landscape, especially considering that the festival so far had been concerned with various manifestations of 'pure' jazz. Aka Moon's saxophonist, Fabrizio Cassol, had a particularly visible empathy with the Black Machine musicians, clearly relishing the success of this interface, and physically stepping up to band members as he blew his horn directly to prompt their reactions. Drummer Stéphane Galland didn't quite operate as an Afro-percussionist, but that was part of the point, as his funky spine underpinned the free-wheeling tama talking-drum dialogues. Cassol was enthusiastically conducting the entire ensemble, scaling the heights of an intricately danceable Afro-funk.
Keeping in line with the drum as a dominant force, the World Saxophone Quartet arrived onstage next, surrounded by the massive percussion arrangement of M'Boom. This was the Afro-drumming ensemble formed by the now-departed Max Roach, reviving their old existence beside reedsmen David Murray, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett and later arrival James Carter. As can be imagined, these combined forces were about to provide another highlight of the weekend's already glowing roster. Complementing the preceding Aka Moon set, this was another meeting point between abstracted virtuosity and steaming funkiness. Murray appeared to be cueing much of the action, with densely interweaving horn riffs acting as a foundation for individual flights of rippling extremity. The acrobatics of the WSQ present these horns in the most advanced state possible in modern music. Each of their solos were almost completely untethered, but would suddenly swoop down on the riff below, picking up the structured rolling as another member took his turn in the heavens. Carter has now decidedly earned his place in the ranks of this veteran outfit, and the equality of all four members completely inhabiting the very fibre of their horns is almost too much for the listener to comprehend. Meanwhile, M'Boom were providing the same level of achievement on the drumming front, amalgamating the vocabularies of jazz, classical, African and Latin music, ultimately formulating their own group language.