So what’s going on in the jazz scene in Belgium, you’ve been wondering. Well, I can tell you.
A saxophonist and clarinetist called Joe Higham is making some pretty exciting music there with this band. Joe originally studied in Brighton and Newcastle before landing up in Brussels and finding they had a pretty good jazz course at the Conservatory. After early on being a fan of prog-rock bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant et al, and of jazz-rock like Elton Dean’s, Joe developed an interest in Spanish, English, Arabic, Jewish and Balkan folk music. You can find them all here.
Al Orkesta also has trumpet, guitar, bass and drums and although there are no vocals, one can clearly hear Joe’s interest in the singing that is a common feature of many of the types of music he has brought together. It is there in the long and loping melodies that work through the pieces; it is there in the tone of saxophone, trumpet or electric guitar lines. There are some really jazz harmony lines from the horns and guitar, and occasionally drums and bass are thoroughly in the jazz mould – try Valse Immonde for example. But this is the exception – generally the rhythms are swirling and worldy – driving the feet to step lightly, the arms to raise and the body to spin. There is a great take on English folk music in Joe’s tenor solo of The Slaves Lament.
But for more representative material, try House Of The Marriage – the opener – which is based on a traditional Turkish tune.
There is quite a bit of jazz-meets-folk-meets-world stuff going on at the moment, but it strikes me that these Belgians are getting it right. Good fun, great playing, and while I am sure quite a lot of musicological knowledge is essential to make this all work, the scholarship is lightly worn.
Would be very exciting to hear in the flesh – remember the name next time you are in Brussels. No ordinary Joe, for sure.