His versatility is displayed in the diversity of his projects. His quintet, in the company of Jean-Paul Estiévenart, takes him back to his roots of '50s-'60s traditional jazz, where "on known standards, improvisation can take pride of place over melody". His quartet, with Erik Vermeulen on the piano, focusses on the post-Coltranian movement (the album L'Esprit du Val) in which he develops his conception of Rajazz, a fusion of jazz and Indian raga. In Slang, with electric bass player François Garny and percussionist Michel Seba, he turns to electro-world music (Pace of mind, with the Indian sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee). With Le Murmure de l'Orient, a series of bansuri duos in the company of Majid Bekkas (gembri and oud), Guo Gan (erhu, a Chinese violin), Purbayan Chatterjee (sitar), Khalid Kouhen (daf) and Asad Qizilbash (sarod, an Oriental lute), he brings us music from the meditation world. His Jazz for Kids project, a musical show together with pianist Pascal Mohy and bass player Sam Gerstmans, takes us back to nursery rhymes with the aim of introducing children to jazz. This "creative approach to music based on improvisation" represents a major discovery in "an increasingly modelled world".
His trio with Manolo Cabras and João Lobo claims to be contemporary jazz, the successor to free revolt (his very committed album Austerity and what about rage?). Within the Orchestra Nazionale della Luna, in the company of the Finnish keyboard player Kari Ikonen, the French Sébastien Boisseau, and Teun Verbruggen, he tackles acoustic and electric instruments (Ikonen's Moog).
Finally, his trio, with the French cellist Valentin Ceccaldi and drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq, plays modern jazz, and is open to ultra-contemporary forms of improvisation: "I met Valentin at the Orleans Festival, where we were playing on the same stage. I was there with my trio, with Manolo Cabras on the double bass and João Lobo on the drums, and each of us loved the other's playing. Late at night, we said to ourselves that we had to do something together. Gérard Bedu, who had scheduled us, offered us the chance to seize this opportunity by inviting us to his festival the following year. Valentin told me about Sylvain Darrifourcq and the project was born."
It kicked off with a series of concerts and the album God at the Casino. Everyone would make their own contribution, Manu with two compositions (‘Du poil de la bête’, ‘Ho Chi Minh’), Valentin with ‘On a brûlé la tarte’ and Sylvain with ‘Les flics de la police’ and ‘Chauve et courtois’, yet keeping improvisation at the heart of the creative process: "With Valentin and Sylvain, we have stylistic form and textures which borrow from both modern jazz, contemporary music and progressive rock. We move away from classic structures, such as theme, solo, and a return to theme, and instead go on journeys which go from one world to another. We also try to develop a collective form of improvisation, with long gaps between written parts, there are windows through which you can escape into long, free improvisations: there is not one soloist and two people accompanying, but three soloists who create a common landscape". For example, furious tenor with contrasting cello, bells and grinding of sticks on cymbals in ‘On a brûlé la tarte’, soprano with a more soothing tempo on ‘Du poil de la bête’ or the obsessive ‘Ho Chi Minh’. "As far as I am concerned, I am seeking to develop solos which combine melodic material, as far as possible, outside jazz clichés, with Indian influences and also a multitude of sound effects, cries, and textures".
In short, "the music of extremes, between planes of gentleness, whirlwinds of rage, and outbursts of emotion": that is what life is all about. Especially as presented at the latest Belgian Jazz Meeting in 2017, this resolutely contemporary trio makes up a sort of Ovni within a more readily consensual landscape.
Photo © Mael G. Lagadec