Brussels Jazz Orchestra

Portraits

‘Belgium can be very proud to be the home of one of the world’s best big bands, and this for several decades already.’ These are not our words, but you can easily trust Downbeat or someone like Maria Schneider.

Founded in the heart of Brussels during the biweekly sessions held at the Sounds Club, the band has since grown into one of the world’s leading jazz orchestras. The Brussels Jazz Orchestra (BJO) is as vibrant today as it ever was. Over the decades, it has developed a unique identity in which playing together and the quest for a homogeneous sound are key. The sound of the ensemble is easily recognisable: it possesses a unique beauty and purity.

Furthermore, the BJO is always open to new challenges and has never shied away from multidisciplinary performances (live music for film screenings), literary concerts or projects that address social issues. The result is an impressive discography and musical legacy that has not gone unnoticed on the international stage – the most noteworthy prizes on their mantelpiece being an Academy Award for the score of The Artist and two Grammy nominations for their collaboration with US saxophonist Joe Lovano (Wild Beauty). And there are countless others.

The BJO has worked with an outstanding list of leading international musicians. Besides Maria Schneider and Joe Lovano, as mentioned above, one only has to think of Kenny Werner, Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, Richard Galliano, Enrico Pieranunzi and, of course, Belgium’s own Toots Thielemans and Philip Catherine. Here, Bert Joris deserves a special mention. The careers of the orchestra and trumpeter/arranger have become so entwined in recent years that their respective musical identities have evolved in tandem.

That orchestra has long proved that the whole ‘can’ be larger than the sum of the parts. Yet the list of soloists who hold permanent positions with orchestra is particularly striking. Frank Vaganee (the artistic director of many years standing), Nathalie Loriers and Bo Van der Werf have all established first-class solo international careers, for example. And these are but a handful of names amongst many other distinguished players. But the musicians always return to their ‘home’ orchestra with renewed inspiration and motivation.

Solo passages in the score are not compulsory stylistic exercises for the BJO. Talented players such as these bring their own unique flavour and nourishment to their improvisational work. Arrangers know that when they throw down a challenge, the musicians will respond with superlative panache. With a busy international concert agenda for the coming years, and projects that will continue to surprise and provoke, the BJO proves that it has lost none of the freshness of the early years – far from it. The capital of Europe is not only home to those strange-looking sprouts, but also to a glorious jazz orchestra.

Contact information

Foto: (c) Marco Mertens

Auteur:
Roel Vanhoeck

Roel Vanhoeck is a jazz promoter at BOZAR (Brussels)

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