Although he was trained as a c lassical percussionist, Thielemans soon found his way into jazz. As a member of various bands – including, amongst others, the Ben Sluijs Quartet, Mâäk’s Spirit and ensembles led by such key figures as Kris Defoort and Erik Vermeulen – he always stood out as a free spirit. Ever hungry for more, however, Thielemans decided to leave the world of jazz behind. While that experience is naturally part of his background and has undoubtedly influenced his playing, it’s been a long time since Thielemans was a conventional jazz drummer – if he ever was one at all, since he has long been active in the worlds of both dance and Indonesian music.
If you take a look at his activities over the past decade, you’ll soon come to the conclusion that, above all else, Thielemans follows his personal muse. Instinct and spontaneity are important in this regard, but he does not take a random, ‘let’s see where we end up’ approach. As a performer/maker, Thielemans not only wants to follow a path that feels right, but one that also allows him to challenge his own actions. He is a performer who has consciously opted for a liberated existence outside any conventional framework, and a musician for whom improvisation is not the ultimate objective, let alone a genre. For Thielemans, it is a learning process, a way of mapping himself out.
A crucial work in his oeuvre is A Snare Is a Bell, a recording from 2007 that highlights the ruffle as a leitmotif. It is a piece that he has revisited on more than one occasion, amongst others with the project EARR. It also underlines Thielemans’ ungraspable nature, as he develops his unusual perspectives in very different ways. The solo albums Sprang (2014) and Aural Mist (2016) are each in their own way an ode to unbridled creativity, with the former an exercise in open-mindedness and the latter an exploration of space and resonances.
This doesn’t mean that Thielemans constantly operates out of the spotlight. He has also appeared in the Jozef Dumoulin Trio and, with Rudy Trouvé and Lynn Cassiers, been part of the fascinating trio Tape Cuts Tape. In 2016, Thielemans was given carte blanche at Jazz Middelheim, which he used to present four different projects, including a reunion with one of his masters, Billy Hart, and a solo performance that perfectly illustrates his uninhibited way of playing music.
Thielemans also remains active in other spheres: he makes movement theatre, is a crucial member in the backing band of his life partner, singer-songwriter Chantal Acda, and has found a soulmate in Karen Willems, who shares his fondness for openness and touch. He will shortly be releasing a debut album with The Mechanics, a band of kindred spirits with whom he explores the zone between improvisation and screeching rock.
Thielemans is one of the most idiosyncratic figures in Belgian music, someone who not only demonstrates that special musicians always seek out (and find) their own place, but above all that they always remain students of the art of questioning and listening.