De Beren Gieren


The piano trio is to jazz what the string quartet is to classical music: the crown jewel. It is one of the commonest of all ensembles but the one with the greatest traditions. For that reason alone, it takes guts and daring to get one off the ground. Because even if it’s not your ambition, you’ll undoubtedly feel the pressure to distinguish yourself and achieve a unique position – not only within your own sphere, but also beyond.

Yet De Beren Gieren have certainly succeeded. Over the course of five albums, the group has developed a highly distinctive style that sets them apart from other piano trios. Of particular note, amongst other things, is the singular balance they strike between composition and improvisation. A kind of golden ratio between melody, rhythmic gradations (with sudden changes of tempo, colour and atmosphere) and free improvisation. The latter bears witness to the group’s unique ability to develop sound, for example by the use of electronica, and to paint vast tonal landscapes.

It is not uncommon for listeners to be drawn into a De Beren Gieren composition through an alluring and progressively evolving melody. This, however, might suddenly collapse into a rhythmically hectic episode, filled with intense sound clusters, before settling into an oasis of peace and quiet, or then come to an abrupt end – as if the plug has been pulled on the music. This element of surprise is typical of De Beren Gieren’s style.

This clip was recorded during the Jazzahead! showcase-festival (not always the most rewarding of locations so all credit to the trio for having managed to completely find their groove during a very short concert). Here, they present tracks from their second album, A Raveling. The video is fascinating: not only does it shine a spotlight on the trio’s musical qualities, but it also captures the intense joy of a theatrical performance.

Fulco, Lieven and Simon have been playing together for more than a decade, always in the same line-up. They know each other’s musical language inside out, and at the same time they can still surprise each other, lighting up with blissful smiles when that happens. Listen to ‘De Ontwikkeling van Materie’, the penultimate number (announced as the last but, as is ever the case, there’s always time for one more number). Pay attention to how Simon introduces the composition by hand-ruffling the drums before slowly settling into the groove that Fulco uses to mould the melody, which he then unravels into a solo. Using that improvisation as a foundation, Lieven creates a melody of his own on the bass, followed by an increase in tempo that is dictated by Simon. This gives rise to an intense arc of tension that is slowly drawn taut by developing and stretching the music, and this via the most minimal of means. Finally, the suspense dissipates into a beautiful melody and everything falls into place.

An important element that I haven’t mentioned is the humour that is subtly woven into the music, as is often the case in the Dutch jazz scene. Humour adds oxygen to the music, creates space and creates contrasts. De Beren Gieren take yet another leap with their most recent album, Dug Out Skyscrapers (watch for instance the music video of 'Weight Of An Image' below). In this work, that was voted the best 2017 Belgian jazzalbum by both Klara and Knack Focus, electronica has definitely found a place for itself – not as a dominant character, but an exciting presence nevertheless. The compositions sound deeper, sometimes darker. The minimalist character of the music is elaborated a little more often, which heightens the intensity. Repeated listening reveals the album’s true depths, a quality that also comes across in De Beren Gieren’s live performances: every concert engenders a completely different experience (and I’ve seen many). De Beren Gieren will surprise you time and time again, always transporting you to as yet undiscovered places.

2019 promises to be an interesting year for De Beren Gieren, as the band will festively celebrate its 10th birthday.

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Foto: (c) Gregoire Verbeke

Wim Wabbes

Wim Wabbes is the artistic director at Handelsbeurs Concertzaal (Ghent).

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