Flying high on rhythmic crosscurrents

Flying high on rhythmic crosscurrents


John Shand
Jef Neve
Foundry 616, October 21

Dialogues between serenity and agitation have long been a mainstay of the Western canon. Having those two extremes in play simultaneously is rather harder to achieve, and therefore much rarer. This is the wonder of Jef Neve's compositions for piano, bass, drums and strings, largely drawn from his exceptional album Spirit Control.

The Belgian pianist has hit upon a way of meshing tranquillity and velocity that, at its most exhilarating, creates an impression of flying. In essence, his trademark is to colour bustling rhythmic figures with serene melodic content, while sustaining fascinating interaction between string quartet and jazz trio; between composition and improvisation.

In this instance, Neve and his collaborator Pieter Kindt​ (occasional synthesiser parts) were playing with six local musicians for the first time: bassist Philip Rex, drummer Danny Fischer, and a string quartet of Ben Smith, Stephanie Zarka​, Georgina Price and Nikkie​ Dobosi​. Having only one rehearsal would have made this challenging for all concerned, given that precision is fundamental to the concept. In the event, the imperfections were minor, and more importantly the music was realised with considerable flair, notably on Fischer's part.

Any improvising was contained within strict frameworks, so each composition's character was never compromised, with Lake Kivubringing out the most ravishing side of Neve's own soloing​. When the rhythmic component – a cousin of the work of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich – was suspended entirely, one could relish the composer's ability to craft floating melodies which, although devoid of heavy emotional content, were exceptional for their sheer glacial beauty.

Neve is also a keen runner and kitesurfer​. The latter sport was referenced in Jumpin​' on Waves, which, after a drifting opening, developed a racing pulse and energised little features for each of the piano, bass and drums; and NYC Marathon contained some of his most nuanced and inventive string writing.

Conceptually, Neve's music could potentially be cold and even remote, but he (and these collaborators) infused it with such effervescence, energy and imagination that the results were rarely less than captivating.

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