Rewind to 2003. Belgian jazz lovers were all aflutter with excitement, and all everyone could talk about was that one young jazz pianist who was apparently sensational. Jef Neve made an impression not only because of his virtuoso playing at the time already, but because he displayed an infectious interaction with his fellow musicians and addressed his audience in a confident but disarming manner, as though we were his closest friends. Everyone who attended his shows understood that something special was happening.
What immediately strikes the people who have worked with him, however, is that his whole attitude is not a pose, but the expression of a particularly generous and affectionate personality who is addicted to making music. Jef Neve is eager to please, for sure, but not at the expense of honesty and integrity. That integrity crystallises itself in his permanent trio: with drummer Teun Verbruggen and bassist Piet Verbist, the most popular piano trio of the past ten years. Neve’s mix of minimalism, melodious virtuosity in his solos and extravagant, almost epical compositions have remained his trademark to this day.
It is difficult to pinpoint the turning point exactly. But at some point, although the trio would remain the centre of his activities for some time, Neve began to write film music, accepted commissions for classical pieces (his second piano concerto was released by Universal), and began exploring the duo as a formula, first with some obvious sparring partners such as Jose James and vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher, but later also in cross-over alliances such as with Dutch spoken-word artist Typhoon.
It all seemed to announce the inevitable: a solo album. In 2014 One was released. It was difficult not to choose a video from this album for this introduction. One shows a distilled Jef Neve, an intense, pure record stripped of its frills. Ranging from his own distinct work to Joni Mitchell and the Belgian phenomenon Stromae, One compresses Neve’s eclectic nature. Yet it best comes into own in a single uninterrupted listening session and that is why here we didn’t want to deprive it one of or other of its parts.
So, back to Spirit Control. Neve’s most recent work surprised friend and foe by returning to his beloved trio formula. For this Neve invited the young talents Lennart Heyndels (bass) and Jens Bouttery (percussion, electronica). He also added a string quartet to his trio and this choice helped him achieve a synthesis of the performer Jef Neve: a focused band leader and conductor, a gifted soloist, a driven entertainer and last but not least, the curious glutton for whom music brings new surprises every day.
Foto: (c) Rob Walbers