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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fred Van Hove, Damon Smith & Peter Jacquemyn - Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics, 2013) ***½

By Stef 

Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove is one of the founders of European free improv, together with luminaries like Peter Kowald, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Lytton, Phil Wachsman, Paul Rogers and Han Bennink, all musicians with whom he performed and recorded, creating mayhem in the established sounds of the sixties and the decades to follow, forcing audiences into new ways of listening. Now, almost fifty years later, Van Hove still challenges the musical world. We find him here in the company of two bass-players, Peter Jacquemyn and Damon Smith, who are like-minded spirits and both adepts of Peter Kowald, with whom both performed and released albums. Smith is from the US West Coast and Jacquemyn also from Belgium, and he's also a sculptor and draftsman. The sculptures on the album cover are his work. The performance was made in the Archiduc café in Brussels in 2008.

The initial problem with the album is that it delivers what you expect, which is a slightly disappointing experience from three musicians from whom you would hope to hear the unexpected. Van Hove's piano playing is physical, visceral even, percussive, full of wild excursions across the entire range of his keyboard, with the two basses adding bowed and plucked screeches and rumblings. True, Van Hove manages to create tension, and a sense of anticipation for what's coming next, and the two basses are formidable, but we could have almost told you what it was going to sound like, and that's not good enough. We want surprises!

Ok, but then on the third track, which lasts more than thirty-five minutes, you get your surprise, when Van Hove switches to accordion, dragging lots of dissonance and violent sounds out of the instrument, forcing the basses to participate, and then suddenly the bowed screeching and power chords on the bass get a stronger role, and only then the music gets the kind of magic you would expect, relentless, eery, uncanny, dark, full of restrained energy and passion ... that just doesn't stop, that keeps going, as in an effort that leads to physical exhaustion and manic trances. There is something suppressed that comes out, yet not totally, hence the need to keep doing the same thing, more manic, even more forceful, with more power. And strangely, when Van Hove gets back to his piano, after thirteen minutes, it comes as a relief, like drinking water after a long run, like jumping in the river on a hot day, and you welcome the piano's refreshing madness, and you want him to keep going on, with the two basses pushing him forward, and that's what they do.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.


Richard said...

Hi Stef,

Thanks for all the Belgian music reviews. I'll be picking up a few of these for sure.

Sorry about the World Cup

Stef said...

Thanks Richard! But the music goes on :-)

Colin Green said...

Thanks for an insightful set of reviews Stef. I don't know how you do it.

And it could have been worse, if you supported Brazil. Even Martin Schray finds himself unable to say anything negative about the Germany team!