At the forefront of the new belgian scene in musical improvisation

2017 marks Fred Van Hove's 80th birthday. The eminence grise of Belgian free jazz has invited the pianist and organist Seppe Gebruers and the saxophonist Joachim Badenhorst to open an evening of free improvisation, surprising sounds and unexpected twists and turns for adventurous ears.

Gebruers & Badenhorst © Geert Vandepoele - Dries Segers
Gebruers & Badenhorst © Geert Vandepoele - Dries Segers

Joachim Badenhorst and Seppe Gebruers, the public will have the opportunity to see you performing together before Fred Van Hove's concert. How were you approached?
Seppe Gebruers:
Sound in Motion (together with BOZAR the producer of the concert) contacted me, as I am an organist, and the project involved playing the new organ of the Palais des Beaux-Arts. With Joachim, we played recently in duo in a church in the Flemish Ardennes, which has a renaissance organ. After this very positive experience, I told myself it would be interesting to be on stage together again.

But in a completely different context...
That’s true. In the church, I was playing up in the gallery, and Joachim was at the foot of the altar, while at the Palais des Beaux-Arts we will both be on the stage, and I will be able to keep more of a distance from the pipes thanks to the electronic console. What’s more, in the church I was playing an instrument with a sound and intonation very different from those of a modern organ like the one in the Palais. I had an opportunity to play one of the organs of the Orgelpark in Amsterdam, which has a similar sound to this one: the flute sounds are those of a real flute, etc. Everything resonates with a greater clarity. But I haven’t yet had the opportunity to play an organ which has so many stops and offers so many possibilities. Anyway, I probably won't have time to explore them all!

How do you feel at the prospect of opening this festive evening?
Joachim Badenhorst:
Obviously, it’s a great honour for us. Fred Van Hove is a great man and a major figure on the musical improvisation scene in Belgium.
Seppe: Absolutely, and I’d even go as far as to say in Europe. A friend told me that in Sweden, Fred Van Hove ranks alongside the great musicians of free jazz. In Belgium, we can sometimes be too modest with our artists.
Joachim: It’s true, Fred has pushed Belgium to the front of the international scene. He has contributed to the creation of an improvisation scene side by side with German, Dutch and British artists.

Can we speak of a ‘Belgian school’ of improvisation?
For several generations, Belgium has been very active on this scene. First there’s Fred’s generation, then the next generation, and finally a new generation of young musicians based in Ghent and Brussels, who love to experiment and create new types of projects.

What fascinates you about Fred Van Hove?
The sound he is able to produce on the piano. His playing can be very soft and his phrasing romantic, while including some harsh sounds. But more broadly it’s Fred’s spirit and his commitment that inspire us, his involvement with WIM [Werkgroep Improviserende Musici], his collaborations with amateur musicians and with bands dedicated to improvisation… He did everything to achieve his aim, and he succeeded.

Fred Van Hove © Geert Vandepoele
Fred Van Hove © Geert Vandepoele

Have you collaborated with him before?
I performed once by his side, at La Resistenza in Ghent. We played in trio with saxophonist Mikko Innanen, and it left a very good memory.

Is there a recording by Fred Van Hove that has marked you in particular?
I listened a lot to his trio with Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink: two very strong personalities, quite dominant, with a booming style of play. I loved the role that Fred held in the trio: he managed to create a link between his two partners.

Brötzmann / van Hove / Bennink - The End (1974/02/04) (Part 2/2)

When did you discover his music?
For me, it was during a concert in Ghent or in Antwerp… I must have been about twelve. I think Fred was playing solo. I remember being impressed by the veiled tones of his playing.
Joachim: I heard Fred for the first time at the Bourla in Antwerp. He was playing with a big ensemble. I must have been 10 years old and I knew almost nothing of improvisation. I was struck by the energy he was creating on stage.

So your first experience goes back to childhood?
Yes. I think that if today we enjoy such a rich scene, it’s down to the fact that improvised music became more accessible during our time. We could teach jazz at the academy of music, where instruments were put at the disposal of the students. And in the framework of our lessons we had the opportunity to go to concerts to discover live music.

Did that influence the musicians that you have become today?
Everything you discover in your youth can nourish you. In my case, this experience showed me the whole range of what you can do in music.

Fred Van Hove at BOZAR © Koen Vandenhoudt
Fred Van Hove at BOZAR © Koen Vandenhoudt

What are you looking for in your music?
I want to offer something genuine. What I love in music is spontaneity: when an event is born of a specific moment. That’s why I do improvisation; but I have nothing against composition, as long as it translates feeling, a personal emotion.
Seppe: It’s the same for me. While it might happen that I work on complex pieces because I find it interesting, I don’t like making things complicated when I play.

What are the elements that can influence a musician when he’s improvising?
The auditorium, the acoustics, the musical partner, the instrument – in this case, the organ promises a very special atmosphere… But the audience, its energy and the interaction between the audience and the musician are just as important.

Is there a structure in this kind of improvisation?
There is always a structure. It appears as soon as the first sound is produced and the second one follows it. But we also sometimes use very clear structures, like for example the lied form (ABA).
Joachim: In the case of a duo, the structure is created jointly by the two musicians. You can even talk of instantaneous composition. You have to be very open to events that emerge in the moment…
Seppe: Everything also depends on the musicians. Some have a very good memory and have fun remembering themes, motifs that were played before.

Joachim: But during our concert at BOZAR, we will also play some compositions by Seppe...
Seppe: They are pieces inspired by the music of the renaissance, in particular the work of Guillaume de Machaut and Carlo Gesualdo. This inspiration comes from the fact that in the past I played and listened a lot to this music, even though I have moved away from it now. But I have noticed that this influence occasionally comes back to the surface.

What can the audience expect?
We’ll find out...

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