Ben Sluijs

Portrait

Search for the name Ben Sluijs and you’ll undoubtedly find: ‘amongst the best on the Belgian jazz scene’, ‘one of our country’s most lyrical and poetic jazz saxophonists’ or ‘a wonderful alto-sax sound from the Low Countries’. Ben Sluijs is a musician without equal.

He has already worked with names such as Philip Catherine, Toots Thielemans, Bert Joris and Joe Fonda, and played with bands such as Octurn and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. Today, Sluijs is part of a duo with Erik Vermeulen, plays in the Serge Lazarevitch trio and ¾ Peace (his own three-piece band), while also leading the eponymous Ben Sluijs Quartet.

In the clip below ¾ Peace play an adaptation of music by Bela Bartok, an important influence on Sluijs. The latter’s alto-sax sound is immediately recognisable: elegant, poetic, mysterious, meditative and adventurous. Sluijs’ distinctive improvisational style strikes a balance between open, free harmonies and basic rhythmic patterns that provide an overall structure. Journalist Jan-Jacob Delanoye sums it up perfectly: ‘It is the range of life itself that, for years now already, Sluijs has been transposing into predominantly intimate sounds.’

And yet Sluijs owes his name and fame primarily to his role as the frontman of quartets. Alongside pianist Erik Vermeulen, bassist Piet Verbist and drummer Eric Thielemans, and later with saxophonist Jeroen Van Herzeele, he has set the norm for quartets in Belgium over the past twenty years. New projects by Sluijs are always keenly anticipated. This was certainly the case when his new quartet made their debut at Jazz Middelheim in the summer of 2016. Time appears to be one of the key elements in the new Ben Sluijs Quartet. It has been some ten years since he last wrote for and played with a quartet that includes a piano. Yet this exceptionally rich period has been filled with countless new projects, ideas and compositions, all of which have emerged as a natural consequence of Sluijs’ on-going research and desire to evolve.

Now entering a new mature phase, Sluijs has found a unique combination of musicians to further develop this material: Bram De Looze (piano), Lennart Heyndels (bass) and Dré Pallemaerts (drums). They complement one another perfectly. Bram De Looze has enjoyed an impressive career as the pianist in LABtrio and with his unique solo project Piano é Forte, in which he plays three historical pianos. The much sought-after bassist Lennart Heyndels effortlessly swings a path for himself through countless contemporary ensembles and collaborations. Dré Pallemaerts, an established player who has collaborated with Joe Lovano, Mark Turner, Jozef Dumoulin and Bill Carrothers, among others, completes the line-up. Their first concert set the tone for this promising new quartet, with Enola magazine describing it as the highlight of that day’s festival events. An auspicious start considering that David Murray, Pharoah Sanders and Craig Taborn were also part of the programme. In terms of style, this carefully assembled quartet strives for a unique harmony that is characterised by powerful melodic patterns and authenticity. In Belgium, Enola magazine has already started referring to ‘the Ben Sluijs factor’ or, in other words, the gift of being able to create a beautifully balanced sound with a controlled sense of fragility.

Contact information

Foto:  (c) Cees Van de Ven

Author:
Evelyn Demaertelaere

Evelyn Demaertelaere works for JazzLab Series, a platform that organises concerts and supports Belgian Jazz.

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