Listen Festival + Toine Thys + Nathan Surquin Brussels, Belgium

Kevin Le Gendre
Thursday, April 6, 2023

The Listen Festival, dedicated to DJs, on both floor filling and mind-bending missions, finished in style by taking over the upper floor of Brussels' Central station to give ravers the chance to travel in their own dimension: Kevin Le Gendre reports

Toine Thys
Toine Thys

Patrik Van Vierken

A vibrant hub of jazz in Europe since the 1930s, Brussels has also staked an important claim in electronica, dance music and club culture in the past few decades. There was a partial overlap of these two worlds last weekend as three days of downpours made the temptation to lend an ear to music under cover all the more appealing. The Listen Festival, dedicated to DJs, on both floor filling and mind bending missions, finished in style by taking over the upper floor of the Belgian capital’s Central station to give ravers the chance to travel in their own dimension right in front of the departure board that announced trains in the early hours. If they had been minded to hear rhythmic complexity played live rather than on record then earlier on they could have gone to the decommissioned railway stop in Saint-Josse called Jazz Station, for a smart glimpse of emerging talent. Trombonist Nathan Surquin’s quartet is an ensemble of twenty-somethings that has a pleasing take on acoustic music that prizes melodic content, in which well-wrought themes set up both good improvisations and interplay.

Surquin has a warm, langourous tone, writes well, and also knows how to pick a good cover – as evidenced by the choice of Chick Corea’s ‘Sea Journey’ and Brad Mehldau’s ‘Unrequited’ – while pianist Wajdi Riahi, makes a big impression with dazzling solos in which phrasal fluency and a precociously elegant touch makes him an heir apparent to the throne of Kenny Barron among others. Already a sideman in groups led by established players such as Stéphane Galland and Lorenzo Di Maio Riahi looks like a major talent in the making, and it will be interesting to see him lead an ensemble of his own in the coming years. There is no shortage of experienced artists who have reached creative maturity on the Belgian jazz scene and Toine Thys is possibly the archetype of one of the best saxophonists you’ve never heard of in the UK. The performance of his quartet at the well-appointed Flagey, also the name of a lively district in the city that has a rain resistant charm, is hugely impressive for both the adventurous nature of Thys’s writing as well as the high standard of playing. His latest project Orlando is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s much referenced novel, and the shapes-shifting and time travelling at its core are vividly evoked in compositions that combine a shadowy lyricism with a very cohesive ensemble sound that topples easily from tranquility to ferocity, with a vague nod to vintage Keith Jarrett-Jan Garbarek. Thys is articulate and potent on tenor and soprano, occasionally enhancing his lines with echo-laden electronics, while his hefty tone on bass clarinet also adds to the misterioso ambiances. A largely sold out house makes it clear that the artist, who has been well garlanded in his own country, has a responsive and substantial following.  

A few nights prior to this gig JamesZoo, the always interesting Dutch producer who collaborates with some of the best musicians in Europe, appeared at Flagey as part of Listen, to the delight of many, making the point that beat-making and live playing can live together in the context of a festival largely dedicated to electronic music. Seeing the reaction of a predominantly young audience to the set by the highly rated local selector Lefto, in which heavy house grooves blend with raucous Latin mambo and jazz, and where piano solos are as much the order of the day as percussive loops, provides much food for thought on what Listen could be if a live band followed a DJ set on the final evening, if Jazz Station went all the way to Central Station.


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