Serries Verhoeven Webster: Cinepalace
Two very different group sounds are showcased on these two entries in the New Wave Of Jazz series, even if both outfits have electric guitarist Dirk Serries and double bassist Martina Verhoeven (Serries' wife) in common. The considerably heavier Fantoom (‘phantom') adds saxophonist Otto Kokke and drummer René Aquarius (the two otherwise constitute the Dutch duo Dead Neanderthals) to the mix, whereas British tenor saxist Colin Webster plays in the Serries Verhoeven Webster trio. The two albums have one other thing in common: both are single-track affairs, with Fantoom's Sluimer weighing in at thirty-eight minutes and the trio's Cinepalace forty-four.
In the case of Sluimer, the four entered the studio without any preparation or previous meetings as a quartet, their goal simply being the realization of an album-long setting. It's Verhoeven who gets things moving, the opening moments dedicated to guttural stabs with the bow and her raw attack setting the tone for what follows. The others join in, tentatively at first, with sharp phrases of their own draped across the bassist's growl: Kokke shrilly bleating in an upper register, Serries emitting shards, and Aquarius shading the mass with cymbal flourishes. As one might expect, any trace of tentativeness quickly goes by the wayside as the four dig into their shared creation, building it up and tearing it down repeatedly as the piece advances. They develop the music patiently, attentive to each other in the way they let the material build in natural manner. As aggressive as Aquarius's pounding crash cymbal accents and snare rolls are, for example, they're never more ferocious than the expressions of his partners. In general terms, the approach on Sluimer is more textural than melodic; the four don't initially state a main theme and then return to it, but instead individually contribute towards a slow-motion expansion of tumultuous force. It's almost impossible not to think of someone like Peter Brötzmann when piercing squeals by Kokke rise over the convulsive mass, but Fantoom ultimately stakes out its own particular corner of the noise-drone firmament as the piece develops. As forceful as the group's sound is on the recording, one can only begin to imagine the lethal wail it would get up to in a live setting.
There's no need to imagine how the Serries Verhoeven Webster outfit might sound in concert, however, given that Cinepalace is a live document the trio laid down in May 2015 at cinéPalace in Belgium. The trio played after a set by the French Vocuhila trio, which might have primed the audience to expect something along similar lines from Serries and company. But in contrast to the opening act's free jazz-based offering, Serries Verhoeven Webster served up something similar to Sluimer in certain ways though pitched at a far less aggressive level. Focusing, like Fantoom, on texture, the three ease into a long-form improvisation, with bowing by Verhoeven once again paving the way. But in this context, her playing is quieter, as if anticipating the less generally noisy path the trio's music will follow. Webster and Serries quickly follow, the saxophonist making his presence felt by breathing through the instrument and the guitarist by plucking out spidery phrases. Endless volleys of spiky interactions follow, with the three playing off one another in imaginative manner for the full duration of the piece. It's not uncommon to hear slithering phrases by Webster arising alongside jagged fragments by Serries and whale-like moans by Verhoeven. Think of it as abstract sound painting writ large, with the participants sensitive to the creative entity forming via their pointillist interactions. The volume and intensity of the Fantoom outing is here replaced with material of delicacy and restraint, yet Cinepalace doesn't lack for intensity in its own low-key way; the material on both albums is equal in spontaneity, though Cinepalace is slightly less raw and abrasive than Sluimer. It's odd that Wim Christiaens, the organizer of the cinéPalace concerts, felt compelled after the performance to thank the audience for being respectfully silent and attentive during what he described as possibly “the most difficult concert during this venue's five-year existence.” Admittedly, witnessing material performed live will always present a dramatically different experience than hearing it in recorded form, but there's little about Cinepalace that seems terribly difficult; if anything, especially by improv standards, it's about as accessible and user-friendly as music of its kind gets.