While a place was reserved for the regular tuba in jazz, with Michel Massot as the Belgian representative, the small euphonium was a newcomer for many. As a result, Van Heertum didn’t have a tradition to fall back on, which, on the other hand, has the advantage that he can be deployed everywhere.
Over the past five years he has surfaced in the most diverse areas: he was among the young fellows of Ifa y Xango at Ghent Jazz and has been a guest of Nest, Keenroh XL, Oba Loba and Book of Air: vvolk. A lot of musicians would perhaps take pleasure supplying colour within larger ensembles, but Van Heertum has in the meantime also left his stamp on bands in which his instrument can regularly shine.
He has featured on the two latest albums of Linus, on which his instrument flows together effortlessly with that of his colleagues and where both lyrical lines and experimental blowing techniques help shape the sound. That openness has also meant that Van Heertum can regularly be heard in free improvisation; he has played with Belgian and Dutch icons such as Fred Van Hove, Cel Van Overberghe, Eric Boeren and Ernst Reijseger.
At the other end of the spectrum he regularly features in Marble Sounds or in the backing band of singer-songwriter Chantal Acda, who stands out from a throng of related performers thanks, among others, to his contribution.
In early 2017 Van Heertum – by now a figure to be reckoned with – passed the ultimate test, releasing a solo album. On JK’s Kamer +50.92509° +03.84800 he uses the euphonium, tuba, trumpet and electronica. You can’t really call it jazz, although it does contain a good dose of free improvisation.
The album is not a collection of songs, of structures or tactics. Van Heertum goes straight to the essence of his instrument: sound, pure and worked on. It is an album that demands the utmost concentration, because everything takes place in slow motion. At the same time it is music which you can let yourself drift off on in a meditative state. Music to slow down.
Niels Van Heertum’s ‘jazz’ is no display of strength, no pulsating swing, no ode to virtuosity. Above all it is a safe conduct for the imagination and for freedom, crafted with a minimum of means, but with a striking expressiveness as a result. And now there is also an album in the pipeline with his quartet Veder, which will be released on the new Aspen Edities (which also released Linus’s most recent album).
Like no other, Van Heertum signals that a new generation of musicians has arrived that has strong roots in jazz, but feels just as comfortable in the worlds of pop, folk, chamber music and avant-garde.
Foto: (c) Geert Vandepoele