Raul Da Gama, Jazz Da Gama (17/06/2023)
There is a lot to take in with this epic musical adventure, Playing with Standards, by Seppe Gebruers, the forward-thinking Belgian musician and pianist. There is the pedagogy of it all that begins quite clearly by questioning the relationship between the improvising pianist [which by virtue of that very act of improvisation makes him ‘improviser/composer’] and ‘listener’ both of whom – in this instance – are the pianist; pedagogics which also first questions, and then intervenes in the traditional order of musical intervals by means of performing on two pianos tuned a quartertone apart. This latter aspect of the recording makes for the interesting – with deep and almost multi directional ears – listening [on the part of the pianist/listener and the me and you, the listeners outside the studio], which in turn involves the processing of a tonal palette of a myriad of colours tone-textures produced by twenty-four intervallic semitones – as opposed to the twelve intervals of an octave, produced when an instrument is ‘well-tempered’ [traditionally tuned using the method adopted by Johann Sebastian Bach].

If that were all this recording meant to the listener, it would have been very boring indeed. Fortunately, the recording is so much more than pedagogy. It is an enormously entertaining performance even as it begins with a series of dark notes at the start When You Wish Upon a Star on disc one, with Mr Gebruers and his music taking you into another world of light and shadow as seen through the splintered, mirror of a sort of unending Stravinsky-esque scherzo, disc after disc and hour after hour. Accordingly, Mr Gebruers begins that liner note with an instructional quote by the French Renaissance philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne: “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not playing with me rather that I play with her?” Thus, the pianist [conveniently] appropriates Montaigne’s question to his own questioning of whether he is playing the pianos or whether, in fact, the pianos are playing him. The whimsy of the analogy is tempered by the fact that there is some truth in ‘the piano playing the pianist’ by virtue of the fact that not only are two pianos being played at once, but also in the altered piano tuning between each of the instruments.

With all of this is born – first of all – Mr Gebruers’ dramatic, harmonic conception born of a twenty-four-semitone octave. Listening to the music thus created one feels as if it unfolds, evoking the imagery of unfurling ceremonial fans: the ancient Grecian rhipis or 6th century European flabellum, or – best of all – a multi coloured Japanese ogi. The imagery of it all translates easily into music with the interminable punching and probing of Mr Gebruers’ almost insolently virtuosic pianism. The ingenuity of his musicianship experienced in the performance of the songs themselves, a fable-like telling that mixes reality and illusion in what seems to be a musical parallel to Alice’s falling down that rabbit hole into Lewis Carroll’s proverbial Wonderland followed, as well, by a seemingly endless musical adventure Through the Looking Glass, which is – in this case – Mr Gebruers’ vision for reinventing – or on his terms – his Playing with Standards.

This Playing with Standards is a metaphor [or even a] portal to Mr Gebruers’ world. To enjoy the sense of invention and the beauty of the manner in which the ‘standards’ are re-played we must allow ourselves to listen with ears and minds that remember and forget, and thus with associating and disassociating with our [earliest and latest] memories of [how we heard and continue to hear] each of these ‘standards’ such as When You Wish Upon a Star, I Loves You Porgy, La vie en rose and Just a Gigolo, or Never Let Me Go [all eight variations!], and What Is This Thing Called Love, Bye Bye Blackbird; right down to It Never Entered My Mind and Donna Lee [versions 1 through 3], all of which are brilliantly and tantalizingly twisted and turned inside out in an unending series of musical mobius strips that adorn each of the three discs.

Through it all Mr Gebruers breaks out of the proverbial prison of tradition. The impulse of the musician in the throes of creativity is always to move forward and Mr Gebruers has broken out of that prison. Like every musician seeking to explore the furthest extent of the powers of his own musicianship and to explore the furthest boundaries of sound in the musical continuum Mr Gebruers understands that the inner dynamic of tradition is to always innovate and this he does splendidly throughout this defiantly provocative body of music, chiseled from out of the bedrock of both the American and European traditions [In a manner of speaking from George Gershwin to Charlie Parker, from Igor Stravinsky to unchartered territories defined by Mr Gebruers himself…and beyond]. Through the music of Playing with Standards, then, he positions himself in dramatic creative conflict of how the age-old protocols [of how the elements of music ought to work]. And so, in addition to ‘playing’ with the tuning of the second piano, he also actively throws overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that have been expressively blunted through overuse and builds from what might – or might not – be left [of them].

The result is a kind of instinctive radicalism that Seppe Gebruers wears like a musical guerrilla, seemingly shredding – even vandalizing – cultural norms that bind musical performance often with his music propelled in great elliptical arcs, with ticking motor rhythms, volatile arpeggios, theatrics applied to glissandos as well as to dissonances, seemingly wrenching his instrument[s] apart and blowing through the resultant debris before re-assembling the shattered pieces back together again. At the same time musical beauty is clearly central to Mr Gebruers’ credo. But it is completely opposed to the overly perfumed, audience-ingratiating beauty typical of commercial music. His sense of beauty is almost analogous with [and evocative of] the German word Geräusch – meaning noise, which in the narratives of his music is, in every sense, the kind of natural noise like wind blowing or trees rustling, which enable to traverse his Playing with Standards almost as if he were telling fairy tales like some later-day Hans Christian Andersen. This is quite the landmark series of discs, mirroring a map of forgotten masterpieces of modernists from Gershwin and Charlie Parker, to Stravinsky – and by virtue of his own reinventions of the standards as performer and re-composer – Mr Gebruers traversing his palimpsest of his uncompromising and elemental sound world.

Deo gratis…

Ben Taffijn, Nieuwe Noten Nederland (02/04/2023)
‘Playing with standards’ heet het nieuwe driedubbelalbum van pianist Seppe Gebruers dat onlangs bij El Negocito verscheen. En let op de titel, want waarom staat er niet gewoon: ‘Playing Standards’? Simpelweg omdat dat de lading onvoldoende zou dekken. Gebruers speelt hier namelijk niet louter beroemde jazzstandards als ‘When You wish upon a star’, ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ en ‘Donna Lee’, hij speelt er ook mee. Bijvoorbeeld door te werken met twee piano’s, waarbij de stemming een kwarttoon verschilt.

Een kenmerk van die standards is dat ze de uitvoerder bijzonder veel vrijheid geven, vaak zo veel dat het origineel nog maar amper te herkennen is. En ook dat bedoelt Gebruers als hij zijn album ‘Playing with Standards’ noemt. Maar het meest opzienbarende is natuurlijk dat werken met twee verschillend gestemde piano’s, waardoor die op zich overbekende stukken nu wel heel bevreemdend klinken. Het doet ons soms meer denken aan hedendaagse gecomponeerde muziek, waar vaker wordt gewerkt met afwijkende stemmingen, dan aan jazz. Gebruers bedoelt echter nog iets anders met zijn titel, daarbij verwijzend naar Michel Montaigne die zich ooit afvroeg of hij nu met zijn kat speelde, of de kat met hem. Naar analogie bespeelt Gebruers de piano, maar bespeelt die ook hem. Kortom, het gaat om de interactie die je als musicus aangaat met je instrument en met de noten.

Seppe Gebruers achter zijn twee piano’s tijdens de opnames van het album in Nona, Mechelen. Foto: björn Helemaal waar, iets dat overigens natuurlijk net zo goed voor de luisteraar geldt. En zeker met die afwijkende stemming. Ik herken de stukken en toch ook weer niet, vind het zeker bijzonder en gedurfd wat Gebruers doet, maar mis tegelijkertijd ook wel weer het vertrouwde. Vraag me dus af of ik wat hier gebeurt louter bijzonder vind, of dat ik het ook mooi vind. En als ik het niet mooi vind, hoe komt dat dan? Omdat ik het niet gewend ben? Als ik die stukken nooit anders dan zo gehoord zou hebben, zou ik er dan ook moeite mee hebben? Al verder luisterend, bemerk ik dat ik eraan wen, iets dat zeker ook komt door het feit dat Gebruers een bijzonder goed pianist is, die deze stukken op zijn eigen, eigenwijze manier zeker recht doet. Zo weet hij zeker de essentie te pakken van ‘I Loves You Porgy’, iets wat ook geldt voor zijn twee versies van ‘La Vie en Rose’, waarbij hij die in de tweede versie combineert met ‘Just a Gigolo’.

Want dat is wat Gebruers ook doet, zo de vrijheid bij het spelen van standards optimaal benuttend, meerdere versies van één en hetzelfde stuk achter elkaar plaatsen. Zo horen we op de eerste schijf drie versies van ‘You And The Night And The Music’ en vinden we maar liefst negen versies van ‘Never Let me Go’ op de tweede schijf. Iedere keer een ander element bij de kop pakkend en opnieuw interpreterend. Zo zit er een prachtige frase in de derde uitvoering van ‘You And The Night And The Music’ waarin Gebruers eindeloos zit te hameren op een bijzonder hoge noot, terwijl hij met zijn andere hand die zwevende melodie speelt. De aanpak van Gebruers is sowieso vaak bijzonder te noemen, hij weet duidelijk iets toe te voegen aan deze vaak overbekende nummers. Al met al een bijzonder album dat het zeker verdiend vaker beluisterd te worden.

Eyal Hareuveni, Salt Peanuts (14/03/2023)
Belgian iconoclast pianist Seppe Gebruers plays jazz standards but also plays with the familiar ways of playing those popular songs, imprinted so deeply on our collective (un)consciousness. He plays on vintage two pianos, both pianos tuned a quartertone apart, and both pianos were built way before standards were played, one a Rönisch from 1900 and the second a Schiedmayer from 1868. No wonder he borrows French philosopher Michel de Montaigne saying; «When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not playing with me rather than I with her?»

Therefore, Playing with Standards 1, 2 & 3 is not only a bold musical statement about the possible ways to interpret jazz standards. It is also a philosophical statement about the way we listen to music and process it, attach ourselves to loved melodies and dear emotions, and how we can re-familiarize ourselves anew with these beautiful melodies. Maybe, adopt a more liberating approach of unattachment, almost with a Buddhist spiritual approach, that may allow us to open our ears, minds and souls to more nuanced angles and sharpen our sensitivity, hopefully, not only about music.

The listening experience to this Playing with Standards 1, 2 & 3 is disorienting. It takes time to abandon our listening habits fit for the equal temperament, customized since J.S. Bach’s Das wohltemporierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), and adapt to Gebruers’ way of playing two pianos tuned to quartertones. At first, the familiar jazz standards sound out of tune, floating in unchartered, elusive ways. But, slowly, Gebruers’ methodical approach uncovers hidden details and surprising beautiful elements of the naked melodies. He deconstructs and reconstructs the jazz standards as archetypal figures which spring up in memories or dreams, sometimes blurry, sometimes clear and shocking. And he tempts the listeners to lose their listening comfort zones in his foggy sonic shapes, where the identity of the original standards loses significance, and with it, the author – the composer and the performer – does too. He insists on playing, again and again, the same standard but transforming it on and on, highlighting aspects of change, unpredictability, uncertainty and fluctuation, forcing the listener to take a more active, even subversive part in the listening experience.

In this challenging project, Gebruers rebels against the common one-directional interaction of music, or of art at all, in which the composer composes a composition, the improviser improvises an improvisation, and the performer performs a performance. He wants to express an exciting multi-directionality approach to art, interacting with an audience, with art history, with instruments and matter, one’s surroundings, other artists, and oneself. When he plays the pianos, the pianos also play with him. He is guided by the resonance of the strings, and by adding quartertones he discovers a whole world of harmonic possibilities. Tonality is brought to the fore and Gebruers can question the tradition of jazz standards he so loves.

Like John Cage before him, Gebruers wants to share the responsibility of interpreting and re-composing the standards with the listeners. «When we listen to music, we also compose: selecting the sounds based on the capacity of the ear, their familiarity and our receptibility, and shaping them into wholes, we are actively involved in the creative process… this process of listening and creating is an unending cycle, perpetually in motion…», he and Hannah Lingier (from the University of Antwerp’s philosophy department) write in the liner notes. «Author and work lose their individuality. The whole exceeds the subject. When playing, there is only interaction, no cat nor I». But there are more conscious listeners and more active human beings, and hopefully, not only about art.

Stuart Broomer, Ezz-thetics column, Point of Departure Issue 82 - March 2023 (05/03/2023)
A great disorder is an order. Now, A
And B are not like statuary, posed
For a vista in the Louvre. They are things chalked
On the sidewalk so that the pensive man may see.
– Wallace Stevens, “Connoisseur of Chaos”

Belgian pianist Seppe Gebruers’ Playing with Standards (el NEGOCITO Records) is a singularly unusual three-CD set. Even the cover art is unusual, with a kind of wavering, echo printing of the title in black on a silvery metallic field that creates a pulsing three-dimensional effect. That sense of oscillation is central to the music as well. Gebruers has two 19th century grand pianos in his studio. One is tuned to standard A = 440cps; the other has been re-strung and tuned a quarter-tone lower. Gebruers sits between the two pianos, often playing them simultaneously, one with each hand, sometimes focussing his attention on one or the other, sometimes rapidly alternating to share an absurdly dissonant phrase between both.

While such a situation suggests numerous possibilities, here Gebruers devotes himself largely to the canon of 20th century pop hits, many derived from Hollywood films and Broadway shows, staples of conventional jazz performance for much of the music’s history, 1930 to 1960.

Points of Entry:

The use of standards, even composed heads, has diminished significantly in free jazz, only to return recently as part of an exploratory practice. Early free jazz had multiple uses for “standards.” While Ornette Coleman recorded a mood-shifting “Embraceable You,” Cecil Taylor played Ellington tunes with some regularity and great respect in his early recordings, and there’s also an impassioned “Lazy Afternoon” and an exploratory take on a possibly ironically chosen “What’s New?” Eric Dolphy’s initial solo versions of standards could seem like Paganini virtuoso set pieces (e.g., “Tenderly” or “God Bless the Child”) but they would become radically expressionist, like “Love Me.” Sonny Rollins always had an ear for strange blasts from the past (e.g., “Shadow Waltz,” the title taking on fresh significance when it appeared on Freedom Suite, then again, in retrograde, when it became the title of a Jazzland reissue, cleansing Freedom Suite of a title focussed on civil rights), but during his most “free” period, Rollins indulged in radical deconstructions of material like “Dearly Beloved” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Ball.” Both John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, among many, recorded “Summertime.”

The subject of historical repertoire and composition has recently become a focus for exploration in depth for some musicians. Though the material and mode of exploration often differ from “standard” repertoire, the curiosity about form and variation is real. Pat Thomas and Seymour Wright have recently produced brilliant and expanded examinations of earlier material, reworking the themes of Ahmed Abdul-Malik with the quartet أحمد [Ahmed] (along with bassist Joel Grip and drummer Antonin Gerbal) and as Pat Thomas and XT (Paul Abbott and Wright) invoking Cecil Taylor with their treatment of his Akasakila, Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees). Pandelis Karayorgis has just produced a CD devoted to the conjoined music of three great pianists, The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project (Driff), creating new bonds with the vital tradition. Similarly, Rodrigo Amado has recorded Sweet Freedom, a very free take on Rollins’ Freedom Suite. Gebruers’ work may most resemble Cory Smythe’s radical and extended deconstructions of popular song in the trilogy of Circulate Susanna, Accelerate Every Voice, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, in all of which Smythe creates eerie textures combining piano and electronic extensions with fractured tunes from the American songbook. Gebruers similarly leads us into a richly complex experience, at once measured in history, nostalgia and cycles per second.

It’s not easy to create genuinely disturbing music in 2023, at least not for those of us who might be styled “connoisseurs of chaos,” but here Seppe Gebruers does as fine a job as anyone might. It’s perhaps the most disturbing piano music I’ve ever heard (and that includes a great deal of “outside” piano music, from Ross Bolleter’s ruined pianos to Conlon Nancarrow’s piano rolls). When I first listened to the three CDs of Playing with Standards, I attributed it to his particular kind of microtonality, those 24 equal quarter tones to the octave. The equally divided 12 tone scale is largely a Western baroque invention to permit harmonic movement – “the well-tempered clavichord” – an averaging of pitch that diverges from the mathematics of earlier scales or systems like the Indian modal system in which tones may be used only in specific ragas, or a modern system like Harry Partch’s vast calculation to create wavering pitches and elisions that embrace much of the world’s music. Then I went to the source. Gebruers’ rigorously even tuning method follows the 20th century Russian composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky (1893-1979), who first opted for the 24 equal intervals during World War 1. I assumed that Wyschnegradsky’s music would be similarly disturbing. It wasn’t. His Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra [1929-30] for four quarter-tone pianos (readily available on Youtube) is quite wonderful, a playground of errant pitches. The significant difference is Gebruer’s decision to combine his pianos with standard pop repertoire, making every note shift from piano A to piano A flat sound like a mistake, a kind of “mistake” that recurs for three hours.

The Music: “It’s Playing Our Song”:

Gebruers goes where the fun house is painful, applying his Frankenstein scale to the still fairly common repertoire of much jazz and one that’s also subject to crooner and chanteuse revivals. Gebruers’ music may be far more disturbing to ears regularly tuned to “Just a Gigolo” and “The Days of Wine and Roses” than even the expressive, whining, drummed bends of Eddie “One String” Jones playing a length of 2x4 construction lumber with a stretched piece of wire “fretted” and struck with sticks.

Gebruers’ liner note begins with a remarkable quotation from the essayist Michel de Montaigne: “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not playing with me rather than I with her?” From there, Gebruers extrapolates: he plays not only with standards, but with two pianos and with tonality. In each case, these contribute to, participate in, what he will play.

Switch “standard” for “cat” and it appears as a point of doubt, the “standard” also an agency of control, an idea that has been shaping much of jazz for a century, right down to Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles.

There is a sense in which the “standard” will dictate not only its own special status but also a certain subservience imparted to the performer. Here the relationship is at least in part adversarial, Gebruers arming himself with two pianos, one to interrupt, to contradict the stability of the other, to pose a contradictory shadow world. The radical reimagining and combining of pitches is disrupting, undermining, even mocking the notion of a “standard” itself.

Gebruers is most immediately accessible when his invention wanders furthest from the “subject” material, especially if he focuses on one of the pianos, but the stranger adventures shared between the mixed keyboards have their own appeal. While Gebruers liberates both the pianos and pitch, the adversarial relationship here between the standards and the pianos feeds his own creativity. He doesn’t simply play “You and the Night and the Music” for 19 minutes on Disc One: he plays it three times in a row, totalling 19 minutes, each time finding another way to address it through the strange medium, utterly recasting it. Sometimes the standards are fused to interact with each other as well, with different songs moving between two pianos. On Disc Two, he plays “Never Let Me Go,” then “What Is this Thing Called Love?,” then he plays both at once, then he plays “Never Let Me Go” seven times, then “What Is This Thing Called Love?” “Never Let Me Go”? In the earlier versions it can be glacially slow, two chords struck and held to let them hang in the air, gradually disappearing to just their higher harmonics, eventually a refined upper register disappearing in its own dissonance. A later version will increase the tempo, contrasting expansive phrases, first on one piano, then the other, sometime a melody spreading between the pianos.

The constant scale changes (so near and yet so far) strip the songs of any sense of stability, may strip them, as well, of authorship, assigning them to a tone world that is at once a collective space and a no one’s land, a spot in which all sonic decays might gather. The title lists omit authorship and Gebruers suggests the pieces are becoming wholly internalized, part of a collectivized body, declaring in a note “The copyrights to the standards are superfluous, because they are collective memories and copies of copies.”

The two pianos are essentially a friction – ambiguating any kind of singular authority that might consist in any one of the tunings. The scale of the project ultimately erases the irritant of its minutiae, the frictions becoming part of a grand plan, a glitch in the world sharing its physics in the way near frequencies interact. A piece for solo pianos built on largely transient (well, slowly transient) material ultimately achieves a genuinely substantial scale, finding its own insistence on meaning. Minutiae and epic become indistinguishable in this world Gebruers’ has created, a simultaneous experience of all kinds of time.

Preface as Afterword:

An instrumental standard may also function as the echo of a lost text. I was reminded of a musician interpolating a musical phrase as the bearer of its missing lyric when I first played Playing with Standards because of a striking coincidence: the first track is “Playing with ‘When you wish upon a star’” and Gebruers had me right there.

Prior to the Covid lockdown and subsequent retirement, I taught courses in jazz history in a community college’s liberal studies division. The emphasis was as much social / historical as musical, designed for students with a broad age range and varied cultural and educational backgrounds. When I got to the 1950s, there was much to discuss: stylistic change; the conflict between “East Coast”/ “West Coast,” both social circumstances and musical values; the radical shift in representation that came with the long-playing record. I would begin with Miles Davis’s 1954 recording of “Walkin’,” an edgy tune that slowed down bop and had a freshly funky edge, as well as stretching to nearly 14 minutes.

When we got to the 10-minute mark of “Walkin’,” the beginning of Horace Silver’s solo, I’d let it play for another 30 seconds, stop the record and ask if anyone had noticed anything different or strange. Maybe at first just a couple had. Then I’d back up the CD to the relevant passage and play it again, sometimes a couple of times, most students noticing something strange going on with key and tempo, a few more catching the markedly incongruous, interpolated melody. Eventually a few students would identify the sudden insertion of a moment from Walt Disney’s 1940 film Pinocchio: the moment when Jiminy Cricket, that cartoon cricket in top hat and tails, sings:

       When you wish upon a star
       Makes no difference who you are
       Anything your heart desires
       Will come to you.

I won’t labor the contrasts (creative, economic, racial) between the gritty reality reflected in NYC bop and blues and California Disney studio fantasy, or the corresponding gap between work opportunities for New York jazz musicians and West Coast studio musicians, the latter putting out best-selling and poll-winning jazz records in between recording film soundtracks and pop records. Silver’s inserted quotation seems like ideal social comment, invoking worlds in collision with just a few notes.

Stijn Buyst, Gonzo Circus magazine #173 (28/02/2023)
Seppe Gebruers schuimt al enkele jaren de podia af met twee vleugelpiano's tegelijkertijd. Die twee piano's staan een kwarttoon uit elkaar gestemd, waarmee Gebruers dus dubbel zoveel noten ter beschikking heeft. Simpel gezegd: het traditionele Westerse toonsysteem verdeelt en octaaf in twaalf noten, op exact dezelfde afstand van elkaar; Gebruers stapt uit dat korset en eigent zich 24 noten toe. Met die nieuwverworven notenrijkdom gat hij op 'Playing with standards' drie cd's lang een aantal standards te lijf, klassiekers als 'What Is This Thing Called Love', 'Just Friends' of 'La Vie En Rose'. Gebruers 'speelt met' die standards louter op herinnering, dus soms beperkt hij zich tot enkele flarden uit het origineel. Gebruers mag dan dubbel zoveel noten hebben, hij heeft nog steeds maar twee handen om die klavieren te bespelen en is daardoor gedwongen om zich tot de essentie te beperken: geen pianistiek spierbalgerol, maar mooie, speelse, vaak verstilde, troostende exploraties, met hier en daar en stevige atonale toets, wat dat in dit verband ook nog moge betekenen. Zijn nieuwe toonsysteem dwingt je als luisteraar wel tot wat engagement. Bij een eerste luisterbeurt komt alles heel hard en vervreemdend binnen, maar eens je aan de mogelijkheden gewend bent, kweek je zeebenen. En hoe dieper je het nieuwe universum induikt, hoe natuurliiker en rijker die omgeving gaat voelen. Het gebeurt niet vaak dat we na drie uur muziek snakken naar meer van hetzelfde, maar kijk, aan het eind van dit jaar komen er nog drie vinyplaten uit met vergelijkbaar materiaal en daar kijken we nu al maar uit.

Mark Corroto, All About Jazz (07/02/2023) ****
Pianist Seppe Gebruers with his Playing With Standards follows in the footsteps of visual artists who work in xerography, a type of Situationists' détournement that construct art via a photocopier. While the 42 tracks presented over three discs reproduce jazz and pop standards, Gebruers' 'copies' are not reproductions as much as they are the products of multiple passes through his mental photocopier. This process is similar to the art xerography, where copying of a photocopy repeatedly creates a completely new image.

The Belgian Gebruers is an improvising artist and member of the quartet Rorschach with Erik Vermeulen, Marek Patrman and Eric Thielemans, a trio with Hugo Antunes and Paul Lovens, the large ensemble Ifa y Xango, and Bambi Pang Pang with guest Andrew Cyrille. With this solo project he utilizes two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart, a 1900 Rönischto and a Schiedmayer built in 1868, to effect a ghostlike otherworldly sound. In the notes, Gebruers eschews the notion of copyrights to classic standards like "La Vie En Rose," "Donna Lee," and "Bye Bye Blackbird" because he approaches the music as merely memories and "copies of copies."

Gebruers' copies perpetuate the idea of half-conscious impressions of these standards. One hand on each piano delivers dreamlike versions. The closest comparison might be to Thelonious Monk with "Playing With 'Just a Gigolo.'" Like Monk, Gebruers takes the classic piece at a snail's pace, injecting an off-kilter stride keyboard against his microtones. He also delivers multiple versions of several compositions, varying the approach as if having the same dream repeated throughout the varying stages of sleep.

Philippe De Cleen, Cutting Edge (06/02/2023) ***
In de Belgische jazzwereld is de jonge pianist/componist en improvisator Seppe Gebruers (°1990) zeker geen onbekende. Eerder liet hij al van zich horen via verschillende collectieven als Ifa Y Xango, Bambi Pang Pang (net als Ifa Y Xango samen met Laurens Smet en Viktor Perdieus) en Antiduo (die laatste in samenwerking met pianist Erik Vermeulen). Gaandeweg ging Gebruers steeds meer op onderzoek uit, immer uit op de exploratie van nieuwe muzikale avonturen. Dat viel zeker live te horen – onder meer door samen te spelen met avant-garde-lui als Paul Lytton en Charlemagne Palestine, maar ook op plaat. Sinds kort ligt ‘Playing with standards’ (uit via het immer intrigerende Gentse El Negocito Records) in de winkels.

Klein verschil, grootse effecten

Het lijkt initieel een erg grillig experiment. Gebruers gaat op ‘Playing with standards’ aan de slag met twee piano’s (meer bepaald een Rönisch uit 1900 en een Schiedmayer uit 1868) waarvan de stemming een kwarttoon verschilt. Een kleine aanpassing die zowaar een hele wereld aan mogelijkheden in zich herbergt. Met zijn nieuw project onderzoekt hij onder meer de relatie tussen muzikant en instrument. Lijkt natuurlijk helemaal voor de hand te liggen, al kan je dan bijvoorbeeld niet om de vraag heen of het dan de pianist is die de piano bespeelt of het de muziek zélf is die met de muzikant aan de haal gaat. Gebruers lijkt op ‘Playing with standards’ het antwoord, zij het dubbelzinnig en een tikkeltje mysterieus, voor zich te laten spreken.

Op de in KC Nona opgenomen set, netjes verdeeld over drie schijfjes muziek, hoor je Gebruers aan de slag gaan met microtonale muziek. Op het programma staan jazz standards en songs die deels in het collectieve geheugen gegrift zitten, maar de luisteraar desalniettemin weten te verrassen. Bijzonder omdat Gebruers zo de grenzen van wat muziek is of kan zijn danig verlegt. Net door de toevoeging van kwarttonen verkrijg je immers een grotere expressie en dus ook veel meer mogelijkheden om zo de emotionele lading te vergroten.

Binnenstebuiten gehaalde herwerkingen

Echt voor de hand liggende muziek is ‘Playing with standards’ niet. Het toont anderzijds wél een erg getalenteerde en bescheiden muzikant die in deze muzikale doctoraatstudie vol lef de uitdaging aangaat. Zo hoor je verschillende klassiekers zoals onder meer het onsterfelijke, door Edith Piaf bekend geraakte ‘La vie en rose’ (hier gekoppeld aan ‘Just a gigolo’) of ‘Bye bye blackbird’ die gedissecteerd en helemaal binnenstebuiten gehaald worden.

Met ‘Playing with standards’ gunt Seppe Gebruers zich best veel creatieve vrijheid bij de herwerkingen, al zijn die vaak zodanig herwerkt, uit elkaar gehaald en de melodische sporen ervan weer bijeengesprokkeld dat er maar slechts een vage hint van de originele composities overblijft. Wie op zoek gaat naar getrouwe versies, is er dus aan voor de moeite. Het maakt wél dat deze muziek prima oorstof is voor luisteraars die hart, ziel en oren blijven veil hebben voor outsider muzikanten en projecten. ‘Playing with standards’ speelt met muzikale conventies en doet de luisteraar verdwalen in een muzikaal universum waar je misschien niet direct weg mee weet, maar die mits enige (langdurige) luisterbereidheid tot zeer knappe resultaten leidt.

Georges Tonla Briquet, Jazz Halo (17/01/2023)
Het gaat om een driedubbele cd (uitvouwbare digipack) uitgebracht bij el NEGOCITO Records in samenwerking met Troika vzw. Gebruers bespeelt twee modellen van piano’s gestemd met een kwarttoon verschil van elkaar: een Rönisch uit 1900 en een Schiedmayer uit 1868. De opnames hadden plaats in het Mechelse kunstencentrum nona.
De vierenveertig stukken hier bespreken heeft geen zin. Elkeen zal zijn of haar ontdekkingen doen en vraagtekens plaatsen. Gebruers is wel telkens de verbindende schakel tussen beide piano’s en de noten die soms heel ver uit elkaar weerklinken. Veel ruimte en ingebouwde stiltes dus. Het principe van deconstructie en heropbouw in slow motion wordt tot het extreme toegepast. Zelden weerklonk de stelregel van minder is meer zo duidelijk. Het wordt ook evident dat er een reden is waarom bepaalde nummers uitgroeiden tot standards en elke benadering “overleven”. Luister maar naar de versie van ‘La Vie en Rose’ en de manier waarop deze gekoppeld wordt aan ‘Just A Gigolo’. Een krachttoer die herhaald wordt met ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ en ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’.

Eens de wetmatigheden doorgrond van dit muzikaal ecosysteem is luisterplezier gegarandeerd. Laat je vooral niet afschrikken door de hele theorie rond dit werk. Dit is ook toegankelijk voor wie fan is van Arvo Pärt en Satie zijn ‘Gymnopédies’.

Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, Orynx-improvandsounds blogspot (02/12/2022)
Rassurez – vous ! Vous avez bien lu: Playing with Standards ! Mais ce n’est pas ce que vous pourriez penser ou imaginer. Une explication s’impose. Pianiste improvisateur pointu et engagé dans « l’avant-garde », le belge Seppe Gebruers a enregistré ce projet de longue haleine avec DEUX pianos accordés au quart de ton. Cela veut dire que l’ensemble des cordes de chacun des deux pianos est accordé à un quart de ton l’un de l’autre, créant ainsi une curieuse dissonance. On l’a entendu récemment à Gand lors d’un concert en duo avec le pianiste Charlemagne Palestine, tous deux aux prises avec quatre pianos accordés en quart de ton, une occasion unique de rentrer dans cet univers de claviers microtonaux. Se dit microtonale, une échelle de notes utilisant des intervalles plus courts que le demi-ton. Il se fait que j’invite personnellement le guitariste Pascal Marzan et sa guitare microtonale dix cordes accordée au tiers de ton (et sixième de ton, bien sûr) à Bruxelles pour un concert le 6 décembre prochain !. Donc je me sens un peu concerné. Si j’ai beaucoup aimé le concert en duo de Gand, rien ne me préparait à ce magnifique ouvrage en trois albums compacts. C’est tout simplement, un des événements discographiques les plus convaincants de l’histoire des musiques improvisées concernant le piano lui-même. J’ai beaucoup écouté live et en disque Fred Van Hove, un phénomène extraordinaire et quand j’entends d’autres pianistes qui ont une démarche voisine je me dis que j’ai eu la chance peu commune de l’avoir rencontré et écouté au fil des décennies.

Et ce que j’apprécie dans la démarche radicale de Seppe Gebruers, un homme modeste et un peu introverti, c’est son indépendance d’esprit par rapport aux "-ismes" et que sa trajectoire qui s’annonce dans ce projet, ne ressemble à aucune autre. D'ailleurs, il existe un Playing with Standards Trio avec Paul Lytton himself à la batterie, c'est tout dire. Dans ces trois albums, Seppe « ne joue pas les standards », mais il joue « avec ». Commençant à enfoncer les touches une à une ou deux à deux avec précaution, il entend un enchaînement de notes et, soudainement, les intervalles de la mélodie ou des fragments des harmonies d’un Standard du répertoire jazz lui viennent à l’esprit. Sous ses doigts, on en perçoit le « fantôme », une partie de la trame, un zeste de mélodie suggérée au milieu des dissonances, des clusters, en travers du phrasé et des interactions entre ces notes microtonales qui font coïncider fugacement des intervalles tempérés. Parfois, il faut faire un effort d’imagination ou de perceptions, ou alors, comme dans la « version » de Just A Gigolo, c’est Monk lui-même qui apparaît, et là, c’est digne de, ou même plus fort que, notre cher Misha Mengelberg disparu il y a quelques temps. En ce qui me concerne, c’est contagieux. Avec When You wish Upon a Star, et In The Wee Small Hours qui inaugurent le CD 1, c’est le répertoire de la période swing, l’époque de Billie et Lester. Après Just a Gigolo , on a droit à trois « versions » de You and the Night and The Music à la suite l’une de l’autre. Il joue aussi (Playing With) avec des intermezzos, Just Friends et, curieusement, La Vie En Rose chantée autrefois par Satchmo. Le CD 2 contient 8 fois une évocation de Never Let Me Go dont la première est enmanchée avec l’idée de What Is This Thing Called Love, mais il la ratrappe à chaque fois et encore 7 fois de suite en se posant encore la question What is This Thing Called Love ? Sous son dehors de bon élève rangé, Seppe a une forme d’humour à froid qui se décèle comme il se doit chez un Gantois pur jus. Distingué, le gentleman. Bye Bye Blackbyrd et The Folks Who Live On The Hill pour (en) finir. Chaque "version" ludique d'un de ces Standards est souvent très différente des précédentes. Au fil des plages, la sauce prend de mieux en mieux et la musique épaissit son mystère, enfume ses arcanes, délivre son message empoisonné. Never Entered My Mind: c’est bien ce qui se passe ici littéralement, on est médusé et … Born To Be Blue après The Days of Wine and Roses, car Everything Happens To Me. Un hymne de Bird coup sur coup en tryptique maudit : Donna Lee et soudainement des fantômes ressurgissent: Everything Happens To Me et Never Let Me Go à nouveau au milieu des touches et des résonnances. Car, c’est bien un des points importants de son travail: Seppe laisse résonner les cordes des deux pianos créant des empathies de sonorités décoiffantes, surréelles, vibrantes au bord du grincement métallique ou d'un brouillard polytonal. Il y a bien sûr des moments plus grisants que d’autres, mais pour arriver à ces résultats incontournables et irrévocables, l’artiste a dû se mettre en péril, solliciter toutes ses ressources, écouter les deux instruments simultanément et leurs vibrations parfois imprévisibles, tergiverser, communier avec elles, découvrir l’étendue de potentialités qui s’échappent, s’en souvenir, tâcher de les recontextualiser, laisser venir à lui les souvenirs de ces chansons d’un autre temps, celui de son apprentissage du jazz et de sa pratique journalière, celui des disques entendus, parfois entrevus en ouvrant une porte… Un cheminement improbable, obsessionnel, exhaustif comme s’il ne voulait rien en perdre. Le Petit Poucet et ses nombreux petits galets usés par le ressac et serrés au fond de ses poches.

Je conseille à tous les fadas de musique contemporaine ou improvisée, les fanas des pianistes hors-cadre tels Paul Bley, Misha Mengelberg, Ran Blake, Fred Van Hove, Jacques Demierre, les expérimentateurs de tout poil, d’essayer d’acquérir ce triple CD Playing with Standards et surtout d’en écouter ne fut ce que quelques morceaux un instant et puis un des CD’s à la file (et le 2ème , enfin le 3ème) et y revenir de temps à autre jusqu’à ce que l’ensemble de l’oeuvre s’insinue définitivement dans votre perception et transforme votre imagination, votre jeu de références. Parce que l’aspect le plus authentiquement « free-music » radicale, c’est le son ! Une sonorité fluide (cfr I Wish Upon a Star en ligne ici plus haut)mais qui peut souvent se révéler brute, terrienne, magmatique, assonnante - dissonnante... Et une technique qui évacue le virtuosisme pour laisser vibrer les sons dans toutes leurs occurrences, leurs interférences troubles,sauvages comme si les deux carcasses métalliques de cordes tendues à craquer faisaient partie d’un environnement où l’industrie pianistique est revenue à l’état de nature. On peut découvrir un esprit voisin dans les recherches du pianiste Suisse Jacques Demierre. J’imagine encore Paul Lovens (avec qui Seppe a enregistré) déjeunant très à son aise et, quatre heures durant, passant et repassant vingt-trois fois Just a Gigolo et douze fois Everything Happens To Me en comptant les mesures avec ses doigts refermés percutant la surface de la table.

Un triple album indispensable à toute discothèque de « free-music » qui ne tolère que l’essentiel, le magique et l’imprévu. Une somme ! Il faut absolument que Seppe Gebruers puisse jouer un peu partout et ailleurs car son travail apporte de l'eau au grand moulin de la créativité la plus pointue pour qu'il puisse bonifier au fil des performances.






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