Until comparatively recently, free improvisation (as distinct from free jazz) has been predominantly a European phenomenon, with Britain, Germany and Holland in particular all producing many noteworthy players. In contrast, Belgium is not a country that one instantly thinks of in connection with free improvisation. However, Brussels has a long-established community of improvisers, dating back at least to 1976, when Guy Strale and Phillippe Legris established a music improvisation workshop in the city.
Cardo, a joint release by the Emanem and Inaudible labels, features twelve duo, trio and quartet improvisations recorded by members of the improvising community (plus guests Jim Denley and Nicolas Rombouts) between 2001 and 2005. The selection was made from a large amount of material, much of it involving other guests; thankfully, it focuses on the collective itself, rather than its guests.
The rich variety and high standard (the selectors did a fine job) make for a very satisfying listen. The musical territory here is familiar, employing tried and trusted improv methods; anyone familiar with, say, London improv will be in for few surprises. If anything, there is a greater emphasis on vocals (five of the twelve pieces feature voice); "Dévoyés is a highly entertaining voices-only duo between Mara Pigeon and Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, in which the pair indulge in a range of chatters, calls and warbles reminiscent of animal mating calls.
The longest piece, "Sur Le Fil, features a quartet of acoustic guitar, cello and two double basses. Jan Huib Nas shows himself to be an innovative and distinctive guitarist; the cello and basses complement each other well, and the climactic bass duet is particularly memorable. "Aigue-Marine, a quartet piece by baritone sax, piano, percussion and synthesiser, is a particular pleasure, a slow-paced but highly disciplined piece centred around Pat Riské's percussion; the other instruments make minute but significant sounds that contribute to an engrossing soundscape.
In truth, there are too many highlights here to detail them all. Every track is worthy of comment. Taken as a whole, Cardo is an enlightening, entertaining and enjoyable album. Let's hope there are further volumes on the way. Meanwhile, there is plenty to savour here.
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