The Brussels Jazz Marathon is aptly named. With over 200 concerts and 700 artists in less than 72 hours it could be something of a test of endurance to get around them all, were it possible. Centred around the Grand Place in the centre of Brussels, the splendid architecture provides a fascinating backdrop for the music. The festival also takes in two other squares, which whilst not as spectacular, do provide ideal outdoor venues.
A celebration of Belgian Jazz, it’s not an event to put in your diary if you’re wanting to see la crème de la crème of the international jazz scene. It is a great festival however, if you want to catch up with some artists you may never heard of from the land which, let us not forget, first gave us the saxophone. And the beer’s not bad either.
Opening on the Friday night, the keyboard/drums duo of Benoit Sourisse on Hammond and Andre Charlier drums pleased the early evening crowds with their fusion-based swing. The trio was completed by the less-well known Pierre Perchaud, who was listed on guitar and bizarrely banjo, though happily he stuck to the former for the set. The band has a natural funk feel powered along by Charlier’s understated drumming, and their CD’s are worth checking out if you don’t know them.
In the Grand Place one of the better-known Belgian names on the current scene, Eric Legnini offered his “Vox Project”, featuring the none-too distinctive vocals of Krystle Warren. The local hero’s blues-drenched soul sounds were a real crowd pleaser, but the set was lightweight. Warren had more to say when she picked up her guitar which gave the music a bit of much needed grounding.
Chances are, you haven’t heard of Raw Kadinsky. The quartet of music students played with a maturity beyond their years, with some fresh and imaginative arrangements. Trumpeter Quirijn Vos and guitarist Johan Pue romped through their original tunes and alternative arrangements of standards with some fiery but tasteful backing from Martin Masakowski on bass and Luca Susti on drums. Someone should sign them up now - a group to look out for.
Sadly Jef Neve, playing an afternoon set in Place St Catherine, seemed content to just to have fun on Hammond – an instrument much to the fore at the BJM – rather than playing the infinitely more interesting acoustic sounds he’s committed to disc in recent years. Nicolas Kummert on sax was too saccharine for anyone other than fans of Kenny G, god forbid.
Philip Catherine remains one of the best-known Belgian Jazz exports and has played with most anyone who’s anyone over the years. Playing in the open air stage of the Grand Place, with support from Nicola Andrioli, piano, Philippe Aerts, bass and Antoine Pierre, drums, Catherine also featured his daughter Isabel on vocals. The music swung along without any visible means of support and was happily lapped up by the assembled crowd, though you got the impression that Catherine wasn’t stretching himself and could have done the set in his sleep.
If there was one problem with the Marathon, it was that whilst the main open-air venues were well organised with balanced sound systems, the smaller indoor venues in the centre of town such as the fine looking Music Village on the Rue des Pierre were impossible to get into. Perhaps not surprising with such large crowds around and clubs and cafes designed for no more than eighty or ninety covers. You either got a table and ensconced yourself for the night, or you stood outside. If you wanted to get a seat in such venues you were well advised to head a little out of town. At the rather splendid Jazz Station where there was room to sit and enjoy the brilliant jazz-tinged Spanish guitar of Nono Garcia with sensitive vocals from Celia Mur. This was followed by a jam session featuring a young lad of no more then twelve who packed a fair punch on sax, only to blow away a much older guitarist a few hours later. He may have switched to drums after that for all I know, as I left at 2.45am, as some new brass players turned up with their instruments, the session showing no sign of winding up.
There’s not much to come out of Brussels these days that receives unanimous British approval. But the European capital puts London to shame with a celebration of national jazz talent where every gig is free of charge. Add some fine Belgian beer, a 24-hour culture, tasty street snacks such as the addictive heart-attack on a plate, tartiflette, and you have a recipe for a most enjoyable couple of days. The trumpet attached to a sprout logo may ring a little too true for some after a hard night’s drinking though.
- Howard Caine