Alex Maguire has built an extremely strong reputation as a multi-faceted keyboard player over the past few years. He has, in addition to small band settings like this one, held the keyboard chair in the late drummer Pip Pyle's group Bash! and, after that, participated in a reunion tour of Canterbury legend Hatfield and the North. He also developed a technique of playing he calls "comprovisation"a blend of spontaneity and structure that he demonstrates in spades on this live recording.
Maguire has fine chops and an aggressive approach to playing in any context, largely unheard since the heyday of folks like keyboardists Mike Ratledge and Dave Stewart, but here he does not demonstrate Ratledge's overt chops or Stewart's harmonic sophistication. He does, however, clearly possess a knowledge of straight-ahead jazz forms that exceeds that of either of these formidable players.
Maguire toys with texture a great deal, choosing between piano and organ settings of his digital keyboard in a convincing way, the organ settings in particular adding a gurgling and cushiony (in the best possible sense) environment for the other musicians. His chops are authoritative and the accompaniment by the rest of the assembled group is sensitive and potent, with special mention going to the gutbucket exclamations of saxophonist Robin Verheyen on the opening "Psychic Warrior."
The material is quite good, but it does seem to wander periodically, though it quickly recaptures its focus. More experience working as a unit might be necessary to correct some of its roughness, but these performances are a good fit for those looking for musical spontaneity.
Brewed in Belgium comes highly recommendedprobably not the definitive album by this group of players, but certainly very worthy of attention nonetheless. The Soft Machine overtones alone make it well worth checking out, given the relative lack of appropriate contemporary role models for those interested in this kind of music.
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