Quat Quartet | Live at Hasselt | No Business Records

Els Vandeweyer – vibraphone | Fred Van Hove – piano / accordion | Paul Lovens – percussion | Martin Blume – percussion

All compositions by Fred van Hove (SABAM) / Els Vandweyer (SABAM) / Paul Lovens (GEMA) / Martin Blume (GEMA). Recorded 18th June, 2011 at Kunstencentrum BELGIE & Cultuurplatform Motives for Jazz. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Michael W. Huon. Photos by Gérard Rouy. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Producer – Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

Musicians and NoBusiness Records want to thank John Rottiers for his support in making this release available.

Tracklist: 1. [21’37”] 2. [13’59”]  3. [16’12”]  4. [7’00”] Total Time: [59’08”]

In one sense the cover of Quat Live At Hasselt

could act as a metaphor for what lies within, due to its focus on a narrow spectral range. At first glance the black appears uniform, punctuated only by the white text. But on further scrutiny, an intricately patterned network of various shades of grey becomes apparent, like the view while flying over mountains at night. Of course the original comparison oversimplifies the wondrous exploration of percussive potential contained within the four collectively negotiated excursions.

And it also overlooks the breadth of approaches deployed by pioneering Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove, who magpie-like steals from both jazz and contemporary classical tropes, but jumbles them into an idiosyncratic mélange. At times he is undeniably percussive, whether on the keys or the guts of his instrument, but he leavens those tactics with a panoply of legato lines alternately lyrical and abstract. However in a quartet completed by vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer and two percussionists, the emphasis inescapably revolves around what can be hammered, beaten, brushed or scraped. A strong ethos of communication and responsiveness pervades proceedings such that although totally improvised the music moves as if in accord with its own internal logic. No-one seems tentative. All four know their roles and concentrate on delivery with the minimum of fuss or ego.

Vandeweyer draws a variety of unusual textures from her vibes, largely eschewing the typically tolling tones, even evoking steel pans on occasion. Behind the trap sets, Paul Lovens and Martin Blume create a conversational mesh of taps, hiss, rumbles, thwacks and thuds which abhors steady tempo. Although at times they take opposing stances, more often they major in similar territory derived of momentum and color, though unfortunately there is no indication as to which man is in which channel meaning that it’s not possible to differentiate between them. While the trajectories defy description, flurries of rhythmic intent emerge from an ebb and flow which seems as natural as breathing, leading to some lovely moments such as that at the close of “H2” where after a ringing climax, everything stops to leave a lone cymbal rattling, like a sign swaying in the wind after some cinematic Armageddon. — John Sharpe


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6 thoughts on “Quat Quartet | Live at Hasselt | No Business Records

  1. A foursome that includes vibes and piano may initially put you in mind of the Modern Jazz Quartet. It’s a natural reaction for those who have absorbed the jazz canon going back at least that far. But though there is a certain kind of quietude at times in common with MJQ, the quartet Quat doesn’t occupy the quasi-formal bop-classical-tonal-composed-head territory of the earlier group. Listen to Quat’s CD Live at Hasselt (No Business NBCD54), however, and you will find there is much going on in an intimate interactive setting that the MJQ also excelled at, though the Quat quartet firmly occupies a modern free improv context. Quat comes through with four middle- to long-lengthed improvisations that surely bear repeated listens.

    Who is Quat? It is a European free jazz ensemble that includes Els Vandeweyer on vibes, Fred Van Hove on piano and accordion, and the two percussion-drum team of Paul Lovens and Martin Blume. They are in excellent form here, running the gamut between the new music end of free music and the more expressionist improvisation side, jazz if you will, and everywhere in between.

    Ms. Vandeweyer, not someone I have been exposed to much, has a post-Hampelian all-overness that works very well with Van Hove’s comprehensive keyboard scatter and cluster approach. The Lovens-Blume pairing works very well with the two-person melodic frontline, laying back a tad and laying down dense but often quiet washes of exotic and virtuoso-istic sound colors.

    There is a very effective balance between the four that gets maintained throughout. All four voices meld in continuously permeating, endlessly varying abstractions of sound.

    I found the subtlety of the music to take several listening sittings to embrace. Once the foundational listens were done with I started hearing the whole as a creative and sequential inevitability.

    This is high-ambition freedom music. They do not veer into multi-stylistic referential moments (save for a brief moment when Van Hove’s accordion has an almost folksy but still free-new connotation) but stay pretty firmly within a special zone that advances the abstract sound world that perhaps more typifies the European improv school than is the case with their American counterparts. They do it so well, though, that you fall into the music more than wonder what else there could be. What is, is in the best sort of way.

    MJQ it isn’t. It’s Quat. Beautiful sounds. Recommended.

  2. At times this album sounds like a late-night session from Glasgow’s Sharmanka Gallery, where Eduard Bersudsky’s magic realist kinetic sculptures have come to life and are improvising an abstract soundtrack for a magic realist cabaret. It’s most apparent when pianist Fred Van Hove wields his accordion, exhaling Kurt Weill chords as the three percussionists hiss, clank, rattle and scrape. A vibraphone/ piano/ percussion affair, Quat are suggestive of the Modern Jazz Quartet filtered through the radical sensibilities of European free improvisation. Young Belgian vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer takes her instrument’s cool, spacey sound into strange new worlds, conjuring gaseous alien tones around the veteran Van Hove’s trembling piano clusters. It’s not all milky way dreaminess however. There are driving passages where Van Hove’s piano canters alongside a skittering hi-hat and metal on metal cymbal slices, before it all falls away leaving Vandeweyer’s floating tones. Inquisitive and inspired music from a singular quartet.

  3. Despite the instrumentation banish any thoughts of Quat sounding like a freer Modern Jazz Quartet. Although three of the four players are old enough to known of the MJQ’s reach, any idea of a replication of a MJQ-like band featuring Milt Jackson and John Lewis with both Connie Kay and Kenny Clarke, vanishes as soon as the first note is hit. Rather than faultlessly performing pleasant miniatures this Belgian-German quartet is committed to pure improvisation, where perfection may only arrive by accident. On Live at Hasselt, the four loosely organized instant compositions trifle with random breakdowns as much as accomplishment, making the journey as vital as the destination,

    At the same time, veterans like Belgian pianist and accordionist Fred Van Hove plus German percussionists Martin Blume and Paul Lovens have been involved with Free Music since the 1960s and 1970s so that the chances of sustaining high-quality performances are multiplied. Younger Els Vandeweyer, a Berlin-based Belgian-born vibraphonist, is the unfamiliar person here, but her extensive training in so-called classical and Jazz musics allows her to fit as cleanly in this company as Kay did when he joined the second version of the MJQ following Clarke’s departure.

    Vandeweyer’s pin-pointed tones and cascades oscillate among echoes of the vibes’ ancestral architecture. Eschewing percussiveness, with the instrument’s motor muted her rapid tremolo runs often echo with tones reminiscent of a marimba. Elsewhere singular, unsustained pops relate back to the harpsichord’s construction. At the same time as someone who has been a freelance musician since 1964, Van Hove can rarely be outshone in any context. Throughout these selections there are junctures during which he unexpectedly unleashes his keyboard command. Although initially flowing from Cecil Taylor’s experiments, his blend of contrasting dynamics, staccatissimo glissandi and key pressure attains its own individuality. Here the structure established is as edifying as it is probing. His bent notes and wide-ranging keyboard fanning aren’t all that unconventional in the 21st Century either. The dramatic “H1” for instance counters – or is it mocks? – the vibist’s delicate single bar whacks with internal string plucking and stretching before Van Hove cranks up his key hunt-and-pecking to full dynamism. Then on “H3”, he redirects the repetative cacophony, which encompasses Vandeweyer’s marimba-like shading and the drummers’ sharp spanks, with systematic tremolo tones from the accordion. The resulting sonic composure is seconded by tick-tocks from the percussionist, leading to a final ambience of moderated tranquillity

    Unlike the practised MJQ and similar chamber-improv ensembles that traffic in serenity, Quat also exposes sequences of staccato, polyphonic and polyrhythmic impulses. As these inventive expositions are compartmentalized into a series of heartening climaxes the strength and skill of this configuration is confirmed.

  4. This live sound recorded at a Belgian venue vividly transfers to disc, augmenting the dual percussionist-backed quartet’s investigative mechanics amid crashing cadenzas, moments of quietude, and multilayered formulations. Featuring eminent Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove and vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer on the front end, the improvisational format yields a democratic approach as the musicians generally operate from the same temporal plane atop bristling asymmetrical movements and a polytonal soundstage.

    The artists’ lucid creative faculties shine radiantly on “H2,” as Van Hove kicks matters into high gear with his swarming chord clusters and flourishing dynamics, brashly shaded by the percussionists’ smacking and dabbing attack. The quartet casts a menacing scenario via scurrying patterns and undulating passages, where Vandeweyer provides concise tonal treatments over the top. With a few seismic implosions, they also lighten the energy quotient during the bridge, where the pianist gently darts across the eighty-eights, generating a form of rhythmic counterpoint as he glides an object across his piano strings. Thus do a few bizarre or unearthly treatments spin yet another contrast, as they close it out by revisiting the intro and wind it down to a near whisper. Indeed, the musicians carve out an antithesis to the norm, as they do their utmost to integrate instantaneous compositional elements into the fervidly executed improvisational schema.

  5. L’étude – enregistrée en public le 18 juin 2011 – est périlleuse. Son sujet : l’effet du temps sur la force de frappe de Fred Van Hove et de Paul Lovens. Sa conclusion est rassurante, voire heureuse.

    Auprès des deux frappeurs annoncés, en trouver deux autres : Els Vandeweyer, jeune vibraphoniste belge, et Martin Blume, percussionniste entendu jadis aux côtés de Phil Wachsmann, Frank Gratkowski ou Joëlle Léandre. Alertes, impulsives, en d’autres mots faites pour s’entendre, quatre pratiques célèbrent un art de l’emportement qui accuse un faible pour les répétitions et les incartades bravaches.

    Sur la troisième pièce, les musiciens se passent le relais avant que Van Hove et Vandeweyer (dont le vibraphone s’interdit tout bavardage – chose rare dans le métier) rivalisent de fantaisie : ardents eux aussi, voici les accords transportés par les franches coupes de Lovens, les rattrappages rythmiques de Blume. Du bout des doigts, il est déjà temps de conclure : l’étude qu’est ce Live at Hasselt n’était, tous comptes faits, pas périlleuse, mais promise à de merveilleux accidents ; surtout, elle fut menée de mains de maîtres.

  6. There is something very striking (pun intended) about the combined sonority of piano and vibraphone: a sharp attack, with rich, mutually sympathetic overtones; delicate interplay within a halo of resonance – a sound of both clarity and diffuseness. This has characterised such diverse ensembles as the Modern Jazz Quartet, the serpentine duos of Chick Corea and Gary Burton in the 1970s, and even Pierre Boulez’s “Sur Incises”, a study in overtones, writ large.

    The Quat Quartet has its own, very distinctive voice, generated by what are in essence, four percussionists: Els Vandeweyer (vibraphone), Fred Van Hove (piano/accordion), Paul Lovens (percussion), and Martin Blume (percussion). The last three are seasoned improvisers, who need no special introduction, but Ms Vandeweyer was new to me. She is Belgian, studied classical percussion at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp and jazz at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and Musikhogskule in Oslo, and now lives and works in Berlin, where, according to her myspace entry: “she explores the middle ground between classical, jazz, and free improvised music”. On the basis of this recording, she is as exciting a vibes player as Chicago’s Jason Adasiewicz, and we need to hear a lot more of her.

    The quartet were recorded, live at the Belgium Arts Centre in Hasselt, in June 2011, with an excellent piano (sadly, it can make such a difference), sympathetically captured in a beautifully transparent sound, that allows one to relish the full dynamic range of their playing, largely focussed on the upper registers: the soft decay of a cymbal; Van Hove’s scrupulously weighted chords; the fizz of a hi-hat; burnished trills from the vibes, against micro-rhythms in the drums.

    On “H1”, the sheer gorgeousness of the quartet’s kaleidoscope of sounds makes an immediate impression – piano and vibes exchange arpeggios, then scurrying runs in a blur of notes – but there is a subtlety in the way the internal balance of the quartet is adjusted, as new ideas are introduced and elaborated.

    The use of two percussionists is inspired: there is more than enough room for Lovens and Blume to underpin, punctuate and embellish the texture. On “H2” there is a small gong, muted, then let free to resonate, which plays against the soft resonance of the vibes; the piano’s strings are muted (held), producing a sound that almost parodies the vibes, over which there is an eccentric clockwork pattern on the drums.

    This is not a mere academic study of timbre, however. All four revel in the novelty of their sound world, and there is real drama as the music unfolds, then suddenly changes focus. Most importantly, they appreciate the importance of understatement: when to hold back, or drop out. A fine example of the virtuoso listening – a term coined, I think, by Fred Frith – that is at the heart of creative improvisation.

    “H3” begins with bubbling vibes, forming a trio of ever more elaborate counterpoint with the percussion – metal to wood, back to metal again. The piano takes over, with a blurred line in the lower registers, gradually unfolding across the whole range of the keyboard, as the music builds to a crescendo, with sparks from the vibes, and then gradually fades, with soft tremolos accompanied by what sound like miniature bells. Van Hove introduces gentle chords on the accordion, as the music ebbs into silence, as if in slow motion.

    “H4” is a perkier affair: staccato chords and fractured lines on the piano, a much spikier, non-resonant sound from the vibes, and criss-crossing from the percussion; music that is never allowed to settle.
    As to the name of the quartet, I don’t know if this is a contraction of “quatre”; an alternative spelling of the name of an African plant, whose chewed leaves are a stimulant (they do produce an intoxicating sound); or the Frenglish for “what?” – apparently cool in Montreal (please, no); or something else altogether. Not essential, but I’d like to know.

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