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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Fred Van Hove - Fred Van Hove at 80 (Dropa Disc 2019) ****½

By Hinrich Julius

In 2017 the 80th birthday of Fred Van Hove, one of the founders of European Free Jazz was celebrated in Belgium. Solo concerts on piano and organ took place in Mechelen and Brussels. In February, a two-day festival happened in Antwerp, his hometown. It was not the typical celebration, as a look back at many of the important groups Van Hove participated in did not take place. Fred Van Hove wanted to take the opportunity to look forward. The two musicians he probably is associated most were missing – in the highly influential trio with Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink of the 70’s he had the role of calming down the two wild ones. Alone looking at his performances make me wanting to having attended ( a full line-up is available here ):
  • one concert with his current band Quat (Fred Van Hove (piano), Paul Lovens (drums, percussion), Els Vandeweyer (vibraphone), Martin Blume (drums), percussion); (compare a review of the older recording “ Live at Hasselt ”),
  • a tribute to the piano player Eddy Loozen (Walter Hus, Christian Leroy, Fred Van Hove, all piano)
  • Niels Van Heertum (euphonium), Ernst Reijseger (cello), Fred Van Hove (piano)
  • Evan Parker (sax), Hamid Drake (percussion), Fred Van Hove (piano)

The last trio and the two solo concerts are now available as a little book with three CDs – 80 pages for the 80th birthday. The book contains a short introduction by Joachim Keulemans, a long essay by Hugo de Craen plus pictures from the festival and from notebooks of Fred Van Hove. The essay was written for the festival, short excerpts are available online . The essay is highly enjoyable and informative, once expectations of the usual retrospective articles are set aside. Hugo de Craen was given access to the notebooks of Fred Van Hove (seemingly he noted permanently and quite a lot) and combines own text with quotes from these notebooks. This patchwork gives insights in the different aspects of the musician’s life: the relationship to his father (he debuted in a trio with his father); different groups under names starting with Musica Libera (e.g. Antverpia, Belgiae, Flandriae); the Working Group for Improvising Musicians (WIM) to support improvised music in Antwerp; travelling as a musician; home in a second home south of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Fred Van Hove’s quotes are thought provoking:
“In November 1989, Nozati and I left Berlin for a duet in West Germany on the night train. The Berlin Wall had just fallen. The German from the East were leaving en masse. They received money when they arrived in a city in the West. The train was packed. On the platform Annick had clung to my arm, “don’t lose me”. The hallways and toilets were full of people standing. They sang all night long. Annick said to me, “you know, it’s the same song that the Germans sang while taking Paris in the forties”. We were scared. We thought we were in a train full of refugees or deportees.”
Pictures of the festival concerts round this very carefully produced book – alone already very much worth the publication.

The first CD is the trio of Van Hove / Parker / Drake – a trio of big names, but with no experience working together. Fred Van Hove did work with Evan Parker way back in the late 60s. Both musicians were members of the Peter Brötzmann Group (“Machine Gun”, recorded 1968 FMP; “Nipples”, 1969 Calig; also “Fuck de Boere”, 1968 / 70 Atavistic), supported Manfred Schoof (“European Echoes”) and continued to work in a bigger grouping (“The Wuppertal Workshop Ensemble – Family”, 1980 FMP). But it is surprising to see that these two giants of modern European Impro never recorded together in a smaller group setting. But they must have stayed in close contact as Evan Parker produced a solo piano CD of Fred Van Hove on his psi label (“Journey”, 2007). Fred Van Hove and Hamid Drake never recorded together. It even is surprising that he was chosen as partner as Hamid Drake rather represents the groove-oriented side of free-drumming, something not associated with Fred Van Hove in his later works. Evan Parker and Hamid Drake did work together before (Sant'Anna Arresi Quintet “Filu 'E Ferru”). The combination works very well. Drums start, saxophone throws out deep tones, piano enters with the typical shimmering – close notes played fast that produce a sound encompassing the individually played note. All three are careful, listen closely to each other and act, react and counteract. You can get into a trance while listening. You can enjoy following the interaction intellectually. Drake grounds the two birds that tend to fly away. Overall, it has long quiet passages, playing few notes and sustaining the atmosphere. In the end, there are passages when Parker gets into his typical circular breathing producing a gentle curtain of sounds supported by piano and percussion. All three play as one would expect it from knowing them and that could possibly be the only criticism one could express: they fit so well that no one is forced to produce something completely new.

The second CD is Van Hove solo piano. If I counted correct, it is the 11 th mainly solo piano record, the last being the already mentioned “Journey” on Evan Parker’s psi label with recordings from 2007. It starts very mellow, with Van Hove rambling imagined chords and letting his fingers glide around the tones. For a while, the left hand rather provides a basis and lets the right dance around, and then both hands interact. Quiet and not too fast. This time more continuous sound. The last solo CD “Journey” also offered one continuous piece, but used many smaller ideas to construct it. In a direct comparison, I had the impression that 10 years earlier Van Hove patched many little ideas together to create the sound, while here he relied more on the evolvement of the sound. Beautiful music to listen to, easy to enjoy (if used to free piano playing) and complex enough to listen closely.

The third CD offers at least for me the most difficult music. It was recorded in the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles (BOZAR). Only three months before the recording the historical organ (1930) of the cultural center in Brussels was reopened after a long renovation. It must have been a privilege to play there as part of the rejuvenation of this instrument. Van Hove looks back on a long history of working with organs. He recorded a first organ solo LP back in 1979 (“Church Organ”, FMP) and continued to use this instrument in duo (“Improvisations” with Etienne Brunet) and trio (“Pijp”with Konrad and Johannes Bauer) settings. I have to admit that I always had difficulties with this part of his work, the early “Church Organ” being a record which I of bought since it comes from one of the labels that only produced “must-have” records. I however probably only listened to it once, if at all. Here I still had the same reservations. At first listening, I did not really get it. With repeated listening I still have difficulties with the faster parts as there is the danger of all notes being blended without it necessary sounding as if this was intended. Repeated listening helped. Especially the parts where the sounds are clearer, do offer nice soundscapes; one can follow the ideas and jump into the music.

Summing it up, it is a beautifully produced little book, great music by a new trio that creates a very satisfying disc of free improv jazz – one has the impression that this trio has been playing many years together, a pleasing and satisfying piano solo recording and a partly challenging listening to a solo church organ. These three concerts were chosen to represent Van Hove’s work at 80. I would have liked to listen to more –that probably is the best one can achieve with a selection. Highly recommended.


Captain Hate said...

Thanks for pointing out that it's Evan Parker on the first disc because any time I see Drake and Parker I automatically assume it's William. That adds a level of interest to a set I was already strongly considering getting before it runs out.