Robin Verheyen

Portraits

In the 1990s, a very young Robin Verheyen travelled from the small town of Turnhout to the neighbouring Jazz Middelheim festival to jam late at night in bars, doing what no one dared to do: get on stage during a jam with Danilo Perez or the guys from AKA Moon. At the time he also wanted to approach Branford Marsalis, and so subsequently surfaced beside him on stage during a concert in Belgium. Ravi Coltrane was also an early mentor. These anecdotes contributed to Verheyen’s reputation as a young musician, but above all they show what tremendous drive he had at the time already.

Later, Verheyen moved from Turnhout to Amsterdam, Paris and New York, where he has lived since 2006. He belongs to the cream of European saxophonists and has worked in recent years with such jazz heavyweights as Gary Peacock, Marc Copland, Ralph Alessi, Bill Carrothers, Drew Gress and many others.

However, Verheyen wants to be more than just a performer (with a preference for tenor and soprano saxophone): driven by his ambition, he is also building up a repertoire as a composer and producer. Robin Verheyen divides his attention between different projects in which his European roots and the rich underlying tradition often play a role. You can call it a type of ‘new concert music’ which it is impossible to pigeonhole. The Bach Riddles is a nice example. This repertoire premiered in January 2017 at the Concertgebouw in Bruges and the Handelsbeurs in Ghent together with Benoit Delbecq, Clemens van der Feen and Toma Gouband. Although Bach was the starting point, everything else was wide open. A follow-up and recordings are planned for next year.

Verheyen has also worked on music by composer Guillaume de Machaut for a band with woodwind instruments and a string quartet. Curious as to where his residency as a composer in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp will lead him!

In early 2018 he will release a new album with Marc Copland, Drew Gress and Billy Hart. A quartet with important names, but above all one in which every voice is of equal value and in which the music is tailored to each musical personality to bring out the best in each of them.

Verheyen prefers collaborations that can mature over the years. For instance, he has been collaborating regularly for more than ten years with Finnish pianist Aki Rissanen. A new record is also in the pipeline with the young Belgian pianist Bram De Looze (see also LABtrio). In this centenary of Thelonious Monk and jazz, this duo broadened its ranks to include New York drummer Joey Baron. During their tour they played their own work that followed the same pattern as Monk, but they also gave Monk’s fantastic music a catchy interpretation.

His versatility also shines through in A Look Beyond, the latest album of his NY Quartet with Russ Johnson, Drew Gress and Jeff Davis. In that repertoire he adapts his study of Messiaen with echoes that lingered after his trips to Senegal. A new European tour will follow with this group in 2019.

In Taxiwars, his group with dEUS frontman Tom Barman, Verheyen writes, plays and produces feverish acoustic jazz that is as popular in jazz clubs as it is in larger festivals. It is another nice example of Verheyen’s creative curiosity. And here too it is a long-term project, since a third Taxiwars album is scheduled for 2018.

That abundance of creative projects keeps things exciting for Robin Verheyen. He needs that constant input to continue evolving as a musician. He is a performer who interprets the term ‘jazz’ as music in which constant innovation is essential. But at the same time he embraces everything that is part of his own musical DNA. From that perspective he is busy defining the future of modern jazz.

Foto: (c) John Rogers

Author:
Lies Steppe

For as long as she can remember, Lies Steppe has been guided by music in everything she does: whether listening to music or making it herself, and as a radio presenter (Late Night Jazz, Take 7 and Round Midnight on Klara).

Terug naar boven