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January is all about jazz in Brussels

10:56 07/01/2018
Enjoy not one but three jazz festivals in the city this month

Brussels has long been a town with a strong jazz presence. Maybe it's because the saxophone was invented in Belgium or maybe it's because Django Reinhardt was Belgian and was very popular here. Or maybe it's because of Léopold Lenders (aka Pol), the legendary Brussels jazz promoter whose jazz clubs such as Pol's and Le Bierodrome for decades brought jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Count Basie and so many others to play in Brussels, attracting fans from all over Europe.

Whatever the reason, the tradition continues and in January we get three jazz festivals for our delectation. From 12-27 January, it’s the River Jazz Festival which takes place in three of the hotspots of the Brussels jazz scene, the Marni, Jazz Station and the Espace Senghor, all located along the historical course of the Maelbeek river, hence the festival’s name. It hosts performers from Belgium and around the world, featuring a carte blanche, family afternoons, album releases, world jazz and a concert club.

Then from 13-31 January it’s the 24th edition of Djangofolllies, a countrywide homage to jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt who turned a deficit (only having three fingers on his left hand) into an asset by creating a new way to play guitar based on his lack, and combined his ancestral gypsy music with jazz and blues to create his own sound, gypsy swing, a sound that seduced the world. In Brussels, the festival takes place at the Riches Claires, La Tentation and Kunsthumanioria. There is a lunchtime concert by Lollo Meier Quintet on 19 January at Flagey which is part of Djangofolllies but also part of the Brussels Jazz Festival Flagey (BJFF) which runs from 11-20 January and is our third festival of the month.

The BJFF is pulling out all the stops this year with 10 days of not only concerts but movies, workshops, a movie/concert, debates, a book presentation, DJ sets, a jam session and an exhibition. Additionally, the artists Fannes and Bagot will be creating sketches each evening capturing the magic of the performances - limited edition sketches that the concertgoer will be able to go home with. The opening concert will feature living legend Archie Shepp who just turned 80.

1968 revisited

One of the themes of this year’s festival is a reflection on what the current political situation is 50 years after the events of 1968. New York musician Uri Caine has been commissioned by the festival to create a work inspired by the topic. It’s entitled Agent Orange, a name which bridges the years as it refers to the infamous defoliant used during the war in Vietnam and it also refers to the current occupant of the White House.

"The work is not just a political pamphlet even if it contains obvious references," Uri Caine tells us. "Music remains music after all, and the way each individual experiences it stays very personal." He will be performing it with the Brussels Philharmonic.

There’s a UK night which will feature three of Britain's finest bands. Alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch, a Birmingham native, mixes post-bop modernism with soul, funk and hip hop. Portico Quintet is on the edge of jazz with their calypso-infused take on UK dance culture with a predilection for electronic-coated repeating patterns and ambient surrounds. Binker & Moses craft exuberant improvisations rooted in the music of New Orleans and the Caribbean.

But that’s not the only UK moment of the festival. The closing concert is a performance by the Matthew Herbert Brexit Big Band. The project started at the invocation of Article 50 and will end in 2019 at the moment Brexit becomes reality. As he has done with previous work, Matthew Herbert is incorporating sound fragments that come from elsewhere:

"Via anyone can send me a sound fragment that I will use during the concerts," he explains. "At this time in which the United Kingdom is separating itself from Europe I want to underline the importance of collaboration and dialogue."

Photo: Yann Bagot

Sorry! Our prize draw to win tickets to the Brussels Jazz Festival Flagey closing concert on Saturday 20 January has now closed.


Written by Richard Harris