And yet for Dans Dans it is all about genuine, finished tracks, albeit with vast scope for variation, improvisation and risk-taking in the rendition. John Zorn’s Naked City is perhaps an obvious point of comparison, although this needs to be qualified: whereas Zorn sought a tremendous clash through rapid genre changes, Dans Dans take a more organic approach. Their music is a hybrid of spontaneity and control, and informed by countless sources. But it is never static or overly emphatic. Dans Dans is therefore best described as a musical collective.
Dans Dans’ origins lie somewhere in 2011: Frederic Jacques (bass, synthesizer) and Bert Dockx (guitar) had already been playing together for some time. Steven Cassiers (drums, percussion) joined later. While their 2013 double project I/II turned out to be a collection of idiosyncratic adaptations (the CD features no less than seven covers from a wide range of musical traditions, among others Sun Ra’s Ancient’s ‘Aiethopia’, Tom Waits’ ‘Yesterday is Here’, David Bowie’s ‘Some Are’, Robert Wyatt’s ‘East Timor’ and Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Sicilian Clan’), subsequent recordings have seen the trio focus more on their own compositions.
When you first listen to Dans Dans, your attention might be drawn a bit too easily towards Bert Dockx’s bewitching guitar playing. However, a careful ear will soon discover that the interaction between the three players is at least as intricate as the many (un)expected turns taken by their musical renditions. This reveals both their emotional bonds and each player’s individuality, with the latter most audible in the range of intuitive approaches to compositions with loose/set arrangements. Their playing style is underpinned by a mutual trust that is perpetually reinforced and communicated – it grows with every performance, even when live.
At their best, Dans Dans sound as if everything has been prepared in meticulous detail, whereas in reality the music might be much more spontaneous – with the individual players taking their most brilliant decisions on the spur of the moment.
Peter Verhelst wrote that this trio makes music ‘that transports you to places you’ve never been, simply because they didn’t yet exist’. Dans Dans challenges the powers of your spatial imagination. The visually evocative nature of film music sometimes forms the starting point. Spatiality also radiates from their nostalgic and retrospective look at the past century, a gaze that manifests itself in recognisable snippets from the history of film, chanson and crackling blues recordings.
Independently of all this, the three-dimensional nature of the Dans Dans sound is related to the kaleidoscopic play of timbres and the varying contrasts in the way the instruments travel both together and separately; the at times categorical setting down and sweeping away and, on other occasions, the subtle appearing and disappearing; the recurrent hesitation between swelling, cranking up and shooting through.
And last but not least: in the compelling melodic lines that are rendered with detours great and small, plus the bends that they are happy to take too fast. Ultimately, the listener must also choose between persevering or following.
In succession: Dans Dans (2012), I/II (2013), 3 (2014) and Sand (2016), as well as the limited edition Live at Roma (2014) and the live EP Worm (2013).
Foto: (c) Philippe Werkers