Seppe Gebruers

Portraits

The young pianist Seppe Gebruers is a true wild card and one of the trendsetters of Belgian jazz. Instead of fitting inside the tradition, he is more of a performer who walks around the edge in unpredictable circles.

Rather than just crossing the line, he appears to have permanently crossed over to the other side. It is from this standpoint, and also through the essential role accorded to the unexpected, that Gebruers works on the evolution of his own unique style. Jazz, classical, contemporary and free music find each other time and again in ever changing positions. A challenge for those who like to pigeonhole, but a gift for anyone who wants to sink their teeth into innovative sounds.

From the very outset, it was evident that Gebruers would not become an average musician. As a teenager, he apprenticed himself to, among others, Jef Neve and Erik Vermeulen – two piano heavyweights who encouraged Gebruers to follow his own path. He only became visible to a slightly broader audience when the Ifa y Xango septet, winners of the Young Jazz Talent Ghent award in 2011, made a surprise appearance at the following year’s Ghent Jazz Festival. Their boisterous set proclaimed, like no other, the arrival of a new generation. And if his debut album Abraham proved to be an eclectic calling card, it was only augmented and enhanced by the follow-up, twice left handed \\ shavings, in 2015.

This album showed that Gebruers’ music was no longer just about acoustic jazz and improvisation, but also about racing soundscapes, collages and crackling jazz-funk grooves with a sci-fi flair. It also became obvious that you should expect the unexpected from Gebruers & Co.

In addition to playing in this collective, Gebruers is also part of Bambi Pang Pang, a trio that played with legendary percussionist Andrew Cyrille at Jazz Middelheim in 2013. This collaboration led, in 2015, to the album Drop Your Plans, a remarkably mature, varied and accessible statement by a versatile band. The group is currently preparing a new project that will be presented later this year.

Gebruers has continued to expand his radius of action. He has long been part of an ‘antiduo’ with maestro Erik Vermeulen, in which the two go much further than the traditional narrative of statement and retort. At times delicate, subtle and with a hint of composed material, at others stubbornly grating – and when Gebruers grates, he does so with complete surrender. His intense, physical playing has already been heard in a number of striking trios, including with Luís Vicente and Onno Govaert, or Hugo Antunes and the icon of free jazz, Paul Lovens (their first album is due in 2018).

Gebruers is also part of the collective Nest, produces work for the theatre and has played as a guest musician with Keenroh, yet another exponent of the burgeoning Ghent improvisation scene. One of his more recent interests is the quarter-tone piano. He plays on two grand pianos simultaneously, one of which is tuned a quarter tone lower. It is a radical way of escaping the classical tonality while also creating an innovative sound in jazz/improvisation.

Moreover, Gebruers is one of the driving forces behind the platform Troika, where free improvisation is approached as a means, rather than a genre (as they themselves would say). His music is surprising, uncompromising and sometimes tenacious, but its urgency, curiosity and unconditional integrity is of vital importance to Belgian music.

Foto: (c) Geert Vandepoele

Author:
Guy Peters

Guy Peters discovered Coltrane through punk (it’s a long story), an encounter which marked the start of a journey of discovery through 100 years of jazz that still hasn't reached its destination. A contributor to the magazines enola and Gonzo (circus), he works as a freelance for Cobra, Klara and Knack, among others.

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