Without a shadow of doubt, Kris Defoort is one of the most important representatives of the aforementioned generation. After releasing his first record, Diva Smiles (1985), he decided, as befits any self-respecting jazz musician, to settle in New York for a few years. Here, he refined his craft and played with the cream of the contemporary scene.
Returning to Belgium in the 1990s, and with plenty of material under his arm, he was a member of the blistering sextet known as K.D.’s Basement Party. The band went on to make a CD for Rik Bevernage’s fledgling label: W.E.R.F records. The group’s line-up reads like a who’s who of Defoort’s contemporaries and fellow-travellers: Fabrizio Cassol, Michel Hatzigeorgiou, Stéphane Galland, Michel Massot and Bart Defoort (Kris’ brother). This album heralded the start of an enduring collaboration between Defoort and W.E.R.F records – one that spans eleven releases and is still going strong today. Might the fact that Kris was born in Bruges, home of the W.E.R.F. label, play a tiny part in all this? In ‘Variations on A Love Supreme’, Kris Defoort and Fabrizio Cassol revisit John Coltrane’s similarly titled masterpiece. Recorded live at Jazz Middelheim in 1996, the musicians captivated their audience.
His latest ensemble, which includes soulmate Nicolas Thys on bass and the much younger drummer Lander Gyselinck, is known as the Kris Defoort Trio. After they recorded their first album together, Live in Bruges (the hundredth title to be issued on the W.E.R.F. label), the band were invited by celebrated Belgian actor Josse De Pauw to work on the music-theatre piece An Old Monk. The script was translated and, to date, has been performed over a hundred times on international stages, including as far afield as Brazil. This clip gives a brief impression of the hit show An Old Monk, a perfect symbiosis of text, performance and music. Currently this ensemble is working on a brand new music theatre performance, which will premiere in 2019.
Together with French saxophonist Guillaume Orti and Hungarian vocalist Veronika Harcsa, and working under the name Diving Poet Society, Defoort is also immersing himself in the oeuvre of the well-known Belgian writer Peter Verhelst. A new recording, simply entitled ‘Diving Poet Society’, is due for release in late 2017. It will be Kris Defoort’s twelfth recording for the W.E.R.F. label. In short, a dozen masterpieces that have helped define Belgian jazz history. A preview of Kris Defoort’s ‘Diving Poet Society’:
Today, it is no exaggeration to say that Kris Defoort is one of leading figures in the Belgian jazz scene. It would, however, be a mistake to overlook his prowess as a writer of contemporary opera. His operas, The Woman Who Walked into Doors (2001), House of the Sleeping Beauties (2009) and Daral Shaga (2014), have all enjoyed critically-acclaimed performances throughout Europe and Japan. Defoort remains active in this sphere. The Brussels opera house De Munt/La Monnaie opens its cultural season in September 2020 with Kris’ new opera The Time of Our Singing (based upon Richard Powers’ novel of the same name). This virtuoso opera will premiere next in The Philadelphia Opera (USA). Besides multiple concerts (solo, trio & with guests), several composition assignments are in prospect, e.g. a new musical oeuvre for Huelgas Ensemble (Paul Van Nevel), a piano concerto and a suite for symphonic orchestra with guest soloist Mark Turner.
Kris Defoort is the archetypal voracious jazz musician: constantly seeking to improve and renew himself, never shying away from a challenge, and always embracing the foreign and the unknown. This is why, although he is nearing sixty, he is still one of the most relevant Belgian musicians in a thrilling jazz scene. These fragments show extracts from two of Defoort’s operas:
Foto: (c) Alexander Popelier