Diederik Wissels


Diederik Wissels is undeniably one of the finest melody-makers on the Belgian jazz scene. Although born in Rotterdam, Diederik has been living in Brussels since 1968. Having initially hesitated between guitar and piano, he eventually chose the latter. From the age of 16 he had lessons with Michel Herr, and from 1978 to 1981, joined Boston's legendary Berklee College of Music. There he would become the co-disciple of David Kikoski and was taught by John Lewis and Kenny Drew. He then returned to Belgium, where he played alongside Toots, Jacques Pelzer and Steve Houben, with whom he recorded City of glass as a trio with Jan de Haas, and then Blue Circumstances as a quartet with Sal La Rocca and the American Rick Hollander. He recorded Transparence in 1987 with Philip Catherine and Michel Herr (keyboard). Rick Hollander is not the only American with whom Wissels has rubbed shoulders either: he has also played with Chet Baker and Larry Schneider, the saxophonist who recorded the mythical album Affinity with Bill Evans. With Larry Schneider he recorded Milanka in the company of Heyn van de Geyn and Mimi Verderame.

The '90s were marked by his collaboration with David Linx: one writing the music and the other the lyrics. Together, they recorded over ten albums, the first two of which were cut in Belgium:Kamook with Kurt van Herck on saxophone and If one more day with various guest artists. The two musicians then launched themselves onto the French market which birthed a myriad of successful collaborations: Up Close for Label Bleu, Bandarkah with Fabrizio Cassol and Marc Ducret, Heartland with the Sardinian trumpet player Paolo Fresu, This time with Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg and accordionist David Venitucci, One Heart, Three Voices with Maria Pia de Vito and Fay Claassen, Follow the Songlines with Maria João, Winds of Change with Ibrahim Maalouf and in 2015, The Whistleblowers, again with Paolo Fresu.

At the same time, Diederik continued developing his solo career, successively recording Tender is the Night, The Hillock Songstress, and From this day forward, together with Kurt van Herck and the Frenchman Gwenael Micault. The saxophonist Bart Defoort was then added to this trio for the recording of Streams, and the album Song of you saw the addition of Olivier Louvel on guitar, and Christophe Wallemme on double bass, along with a series of guest musicians: Erik Truffaz on trumpet, Tore Brunborg on saxophone, Olivier Ker Ourio on harmonica, and Fay Claassen on vocals. Finally, two pure solo albums followed: Together and Kaos.

On his latest album, Pasarela, which features twelve original tunes delivered in an intimate, hushed atmosphere, Diederik has opted for simplicity, favouring exacerbated melodic lyricism. At the heart of the album sits a core trio: "a simple configuration which uses working drawings." The atmospheric layers of the keyboard, the muffled sound of a tenor saxophone, and the soulful voice of the accordion are intertwined with crisp, expressive piano lines, forming a trio without drums:"We found that with just three of us it felt more open: the space would change as soon as we added drums." Nicolas Kummert, originally of the group Drifter, is featured on tenor, along with the other great melody-maker, Alexi Tuomarila, on piano, and Thibault Dille, of Oak Tree-fame, on accordeon. Sarah Klenes provides guest vocals, and Annemie Osborne makes an appearance on cello. On ‘Molenbeek’, ‘Wayfare’, ‘Pasarela’ and ‘Hideout’, the melodic double bass of the young Victor Foulon joins the trio, whilst on ‘Release’ and ‘Dreamcatcher’, the frail, rippling voice of Emily Allison would blend with the singing melodies of the keyboards. Another unique aspect about Pasarela is the place reserved for electric keyboards, Diederik Wissels' keyboard, plus loops on ‘Timid Statues’, ‘Molenbeek’ and ‘Dreamcatcher’, and Dille's keyboard on ‘Wayfare’, resulting in a subtle mixture of acoustic and electric instruments: "a state of balance between opposing forces". The album serves as a window into the introspective world of Diederik Wissels.

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Photo (c) Lara Herbinia

Claude Loxhay

Claude Loxhay has been writing for magazines such as Jazz In Time, Jazzaround, Jazz'Halo and occasionally Jazz Mag, and these days he is active on the websites jazzaroundmag.com, jazz'halo.be and Citizen Jazz.

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