11 Songs; February 12, 2011; Concertgebouw Brugge
It’s true I traveled to the UK twice specifically to see the Wrens, but it was pure luck that I was able to see Jonathan Richman my first day in Munich and Clem Snide and Andrew Bird together in Barcelona, because for the most part my trips to Europe have been surprisingly short on music. By myself in Bruges for two nights, I decided I wanted to see some music, no matter what it was. The majority of the events in the “What’s Happening in Bruges” guide my bed & breakfast hosts were kind enough to provide were jazz, though there was also some sort of dub concert that sounded even less appealing. The best bet seemed to be the show at the music hall. The relatively new hall sticks out among the predominantly medieval architecture of Bruges. I’m sure they meant it to look modern, but as the brewery tour guide pointed out earlier that day, “it’s awful.” She said they had built it because they were supposed to be the number one city in Europe for culture. “Now I think we are last,” she lamented.
Still, once you got inside the theater, it was easy to forget about the external appearance and appreciate the sound inside. The show promised to be interesting as it paired West African drummers with jazz musicians. Yes, it was still jazz, but I was pretty sure this was jazz I could handle. The drummers were definitely the focal point. Dressed in a variety of styles from traditional garb to baseball hats and blue jeans, the musicians’ boundless energy, complicated rhythms, and wide smiles made them irresistible. They anchored every song with layers of sound created with several sets of drums, hand percussion and a large wooden member of the xylophone family. Since his job also involved playing a lot of rhythm, the burly guy saddled with a sousaphone for the entire night wandered over to that side of the stage frequently, creating a strange juxtaposition.
As much as I loved the drums, it wouldn’t have been a show without the brass on the other side of the stage. Luckily their jazz was not the stuffy kind, but instead an inventive and very catchy kind. I found myself bobbing my head for most of the show and saw others around me doing the same. The quartet of saxophone players made the most noise, but it was the trumpet that really stood out. The handsome, dark-haired, musician was easily the youngest person on stage, but he held his own against the tenor, baritone and pair of altos. One of these alto players, Trevor Watts, seemed to be some sort of big deal, as the tenor player Luc Mishalle who emceed the show (mostly in what I think was French, but honestly, I was never quite sure what language anyone was speaking the whole time I was in Belgium) introduced him frequently. When called on for an explanation of one of the titular eleven songs, he gave it in English and sounded distinctly British.
After the eleven songs were over the musicians returned for a short improv encore led by the drummers before each was presented with a bouquet of flowers. It wasn’t a concert I would have picked normally, but I was definitely happy with my choice.