Thursday, February 25, 2010

Peter Van Huffel Quartet's "Like the Rusted Key"

Peter Van Huffel is a Canadian alto saxophonist, formerly based in NYC and now in Berlin. He's got his fingers in a number of pies: his own quartet, a collaboration with Belgian vocalist Sophie Tassignon, and an "angry jazz" trio called Gorilla Mask. His new quartet release, Like the Rusted Key, just dropped on Fresh Sound Records.

Van Huffel's most stellar collaborator in the new quartet is pianist Jesse Stacken, a leader in his own right. Together, the two men intertwine their sounds as effectively as David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp did in Ware's great quartet. Both are nuanced players with varied tonal palettes. They let things unfold slowly on the opening "Drift" before revealing a penchant for rhythmic density on "Tangent," a piece that veers into '60s "energy music" midway through via Van Huffel's use of multiphonics. Relentless drummer Samuel Rohrer stays with them every step of the way.

"Enghavevej" has some angular melodic lines that aren't exactly Monkian or Dolphic, although reminiscent of both precursors, while "Backward Momentum" employs prog rock-like dynamics. The closing triptych of "Melancholic," "Beast II," and "Atonement" is contemplative, spacious, and somber, the last tune featuring lovely unison statements by Van Huffel's alto and Miles Perkin's arco bass. Like Fieldwork's Door, the PVH Quartet's Like the Rusted Key is a cerebral outing that's not without its visceral moments. It's a worthy showcase for a group that's forging a strong identity.


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