For those who might have believed that Belgian jazz was limited to the harmonica sounds of ‘Toots’ Thielemans who died only last August, then think again. This wonderfully conceived and perfectly executed anthology throws important new light on the evolution of modern jazz in Belgium, beginning with the bop revolution and taking on board big band, Latin and modal influences along the way. From the exquisite cover art work of Luc Hoenraet (worthy of a separate exhibition) to the sumptuous gatefold sleeve and hard back cover, this is an exemplary compilation that leaves no stone unturned and reveals a treasure trove of information and sounds that await the reader-listener. Revelation number one is the work of guitarist René Thomas, who recorded with no less than Sonny Rollins in his prime in 1957 on the seminal, ‘Brass and Trio’, and then later double album with Stan Getz on the live recording, ‘Dynasty’ (both albums on the Verve label). Thomas was in fact a highly respected guitarist and musician who recorded one album as a leader, ‘Guitar groove’, for the prestigious Riverside label. Here Thomas features alongside revelation number two, flautist and tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar who has a similarly impressive CV. Intricate guitar and flute work between the two musicians combine on, ‘Bernie’s taste’, as part of a quintet. Better known by virtue of his work as one half of the Clarke-Boland band, is pianist Francy Boland and the mid-tempo trio outing, ‘Dark eyes’, is just the kind of groove that Italian DJ/musician Nicola Conte or Gilles Peterson might espouse and rightly so. In a similar dance-jazz vein comes percussionist-vibist Fats Sadi. More discerning jazz fans will have heard, ‘Ensadinando’ on other compilations and it is most certainly worthy of a place here.
The second CD continues in very much the same lineage with fine work from Kenny Clarke on Francy Boland’s modal flavoured, ‘Night lady’, while in a more straight ahead big band bop vein is a Paris recorded Bobby Jaspar larger formation on ‘Coraline’, and it should be stressed that recording locations are situated throughout western Europe and not restricted to solely to Belgium, with Paris a favourite destination. This time Jaspar takes charge on tenor saxophone and of note is the participation of a young French pianist called Maurice Vander, who would go on to be the preferred piano accompanist of none other than French jazz singer Claude Nougaro. Elsewhere, leader Jack Sels is a name to watch out for and his quartet offer a tasty reworking of the soul-jazz classic, ‘Work song’. Sels re-appears on a more sedate piece, the self-penned, ‘Minor work’ as part of the Lucky Thompson and Jack Sels sextet, with Fats Sadi now in supportive vibraphone mode.
What impresses above else on this package is how lovingly the individual tracks have been deconstructed in the excellent inner sleeve notes with exemplary personnel listing and album/EP cover photos. Impeccable sound quality rounds off what can only be described as a first class with distinction project that quite simply opens up a whole new avenue to explore. Given cultural differences expressed by the French and Flemish speaking populations of Belgium, this is one cultural endeavour on which all linguistic communities can wholeheartedly agree. This writer looks forward, hopefully, to a second volume that takes the Belgian jazz story full circle from 1970 through to the present. Enterprising labels should also think seriously about an anthology of the work of Bobby Jaspar who deserves to be considered among the very best of flute players and was no mean tenorist.