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Live From Brussels: Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, Sal La Rocca, Igor Gehenot, Diederniko Kummsels & Makas

Live From Brussels: Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, Sal La Rocca, Igor Gehenot, Diederniko Kummsels & Makas
Martin Longley By

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Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège
Bozar
January 9, 2019

Much of this evening's programme featured compositions that are probably of interest to jazzers, particularly with the presence of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, although Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber will doubtless have more crossover appeal than most composers. There was even a rock'n'roll frisson to this night, as acts such as ELP, Tom Waits and Alice Cooper have successfully mauled this raw matter. There were also filmic resonances for the Barber piece, via The Deep Blue Sea, from 2011.

The Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège came across from that city for one of their regular appearances at Bozar's Henry Le Boeuf Hall, which is surely one of Europe's acoustic greats. The concert's first half opened with Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man," with massive drum booms, and a trumpet, first joined by French horns, expanded to trombones and tuba. The work sounded oddly like an introduction, but this is the nature of a fanfare, even one as elaborate at Copland's.

Liza Ferschtman guested on Barber's "Concerto For Violin And Orchestra," diving straight in to a virtually constant, singing vibrato, soloing in conjunction with swelling strings, warm and thickly clouded. The romantic blooming bordered on the schmaltzy, but the second section was quieter, sparse and mournful. At this point, the Dutch Ferstchman's violin was almost alone, apart from a faint French horn growth, but then a groundswell began, the third phase fleet and light, with a strong staccato bite.

The second half of the show dug down into the jazz roots, the orchestra enlarged with added percussion, harp and celeste. Gershwin's "Strike Up The Band" romped and swaggered, its motion decided by the clearly swing-loving conductor Christian Arming, imparting a near cartoon intensification of the jazz form, extremely redolent of its late 1920s time period, possessing a kind of military syncopation. There was a clarinet solo, a dance of the woodblocks, and a sharply minimalist triangle chime, like a mystical jazz-age dream, misted and hallucinogenic, wearing fast-motion spats.

The longer climax was provided by Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances," derived from his "West Side Story" score, demanding even more reeds, and glorying in an exciting delivery of its rhythmic and melodic swerves. Has John Zorn ever sliced up Bernstein? Maracas brought in the mambo, using Zorn jump-cuts from when Zorn was in short pants. These were both subversions and expansions of those great themes, as Bernstein's self- regurgitations piled up the dense glorifications of those original jazz gestures, in the grandiose orchestral swing style.

The Sal La Rocca Quartet
Jazz Station
January 9, 2019

From orchestra to quartet, it was a relatively swift transfer to the Jazz Station club, which is one of the core Brussels joints. It's a hike from the Grand Place hub, a converted fire station in the Saint-Josse-ten-Node area, which is just north of the European Union part of town. Its most immediately striking feature is an extremely wavy wooden ceiling, which doubtless enhances the room sound quality, as well as looking highly distinctive. Cabaret-style tables mix with rows of chairs, and there's a bar to the side, combining the airs of both club-bar and arts centre.

One of Belgium's principle players and band leaders is bassman Sal La Rocca, and January found him touring throughout the country, concentrating on the music of Shifted, his most recent album. La Rocca's regular quartet also features reedsman Jeroen van Herzeele (another prominent Brussels player), Pascal Mohy (keyboards) and Lieven Venken (drums). The agreed concept involves a fifty-fifty split between members with Flemish and Walloon roots (Dutch and French-speaking), as well as a similar recipe that springs from backgrounds that are vaguely 'mainline' and 'experimental,' though the two-and-two ratio demarcations have clearly become hazy after their time working together.

The quartet's second set benefited from a palpably warmed-up audience, with Herzeele initially winding freely on soprano saxophone, then infiltrating electronic effects around his tougher tenor eruptions. Mohy shifted from acoustic piano to electric keyboard (billed as a Wurlitzer, but in reality, probably not). Pastel luminosity in the music was reflected in the illuminated plastic panels to the rear of the room, the set including a few relaxed ballads, climbing up to a run of feisty rollers as the dramatic curve completed, tenor and Venken's drums tussling together to provide the evening's release. La Rocca himself maintained an eloquent presence, preferring to stoke continually, taking a few solos, but perhaps not enough, given that he's the bandleader.

Igor Gehenot/Sal La Rocca/Mimi Verderame
Sounds Jazz Club
January 14, 2019

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