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Seppe Gebruers: Playing with Standards

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Seppe Gebruers: Playing with Standards
Seppe Gebruers photograph by @bcfotograaf courtesy of the artist’s social media.

There is a lot to take in with this epic musical adventure, Playing with Standards, by Seppe Gebruers, the forward-thinking Belgian musician and pianist. There is the pedagogy of it all that begins quite clearly by questioning the relationship between the improvising pianist [which by virtue of that very act of improvisation makes him ‘improviser/composer’] and ‘listener’ both of whom – in this instance – are the pianist; pedagogics which also first questions, and then intervenes in the traditional order of musical intervals by means of performing on two pianos tuned a quartertone apart. This latter aspect of the recording makes for the interesting – with deep and almost multi directional ears – listening [on the part of the pianist/listener and the me and you,  the listeners outside the studio], which in turn involves the processing of a tonal palette of a myriad of colours tone-textures produced by twenty-four intervallic semitones – as opposed to the twelve intervals of an octave, produced when an instrument is ‘well-tempered’ [traditionally tuned using the method adopted by Johann Sebastian Bach].

If that were all this recording meant to the listener, it would have been very boring indeed. Fortunately, the recording is so much more than pedagogy. It is an enormously entertaining performance even as it begins with a series of dark notes at the start When You Wish Upon a Star on disc one, with Mr Gebruers and his music taking you into another world of light and shadow as seen through the splintered, mirror of a sort of unending Stravinsky-esque scherzo, disc after disc and hour after hour. Accordingly, Mr Gebruers begins that liner note with an instructional quote by the French Renaissance philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne: “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not playing with me rather that I play with her?” Thus, the pianist [conveniently] appropriates Montaigne’s question to his own questioning of whether he is playing the pianos or whether, in fact, the pianos are playing him. The whimsy of the analogy is tempered by the fact that there is some truth in ‘the piano playing the pianist’ by virtue of the fact that not only are two pianos being played at once, but also in the altered piano tuning between each of the instruments.

With all of this is born – first of all – Mr Gebruers’ dramatic, harmonic conception born of a twenty-four-semitone octave. Listening to the music thus created one feels as if it unfolds, evoking the imagery of unfurling ceremonial fans: the ancient Grecian rhipis or 6th century European flabellum, or – best of all – a multi coloured Japanese ogi. The imagery of it all translates easily into music with the interminable punching and probing of Mr Gebruers’ almost insolently virtuosic pianism. The ingenuity of his musicianship experienced in the performance of the songs themselves, a fable-like telling that mixes reality and illusion in what seems to be a musical parallel to Alice’s falling down that rabbit hole into Lewis Carroll’s proverbial Wonderland followed, as well, by a seemingly endless musical adventure Through the Looking Glass, which is – in this case – Mr Gebruers’ vision for reinventing – or on his terms – his Playing with Standards.

This Playing with Standards is a metaphor [or even a] portal to Mr Gebruers’ world. To enjoy the sense of invention and the beauty of the manner in which the ‘standards’ are re-played we must allow ourselves to listen with ears and minds that remember and forget, and thus with associating and disassociating with our [earliest and latest] memories of [how we heard and continue to hear] each of these ‘standards’ such as When You Wish Upon a Star, I Loves You Porgy, La vie en rose and Just a Gigolo, or Never Let Me Go [all eight variations!], and What Is This Thing Called Love, Bye Bye Blackbird; right down to It Never Entered My Mind and Donna Lee [versions 1 through 3], all of which are brilliantly and tantalizingly twisted and turned inside out in an unending series of musical mobius strips that adorn each of the three discs.

Through it all Mr Gebruers breaks out of the proverbial prison of tradition. The impulse of the musician in the throes of creativity is always to move forward and Mr Gebruers has broken out of that prison. Like every musician seeking to explore the furthest extent of the powers of his own musicianship and to explore the furthest boundaries of sound in the musical continuum Mr Gebruers understands that the inner dynamic of tradition is to always innovate and this he does splendidly throughout this defiantly provocative body of music, chiseled from out of the bedrock of both the American and European traditions [In a manner of speaking from George Gershwin to Charlie Parker, from Igor Stravinsky to unchartered territories defined by Mr Gebruers himself…and beyond]. Through the music of Playing with Standards, then, he positions himself in dramatic creative conflict of how the age-old protocols [of how the elements of music ought to work]. And so, in addition to ‘playing’ with the tuning of the second piano, he also actively throws overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that have been expressively blunted through overuse and builds from what might – or might not – be left [of them].

The result is a kind of instinctive radicalism that Seppe Gebruers wears like a musical guerrilla, seemingly shredding – even vandalizing – cultural norms that bind musical performance often with his music propelled in great elliptical arcs, with ticking motor rhythms, volatile arpeggios, theatrics applied to glissandos as well as to dissonances, seemingly wrenching his instrument[s] apart and blowing through the resultant debris before re-assembling the shattered pieces back together again. At the same time musical beauty is clearly central to Mr Gebruers’ credo. But it is completely opposed to the overly perfumed, audience-ingratiating beauty typical of commercial music. His sense of beauty is almost analogous with [and evocative of] the German word Geräusch – meaning noise, which in the narratives of his music is, in every sense, the kind of natural noise like wind blowing or trees rustling, which enable to traverse his Playing with Standards almost as if he were telling fairy tales like some later-day Hans Christian Andersen. This is quite the landmark series of discs, mirroring a map of forgotten masterpieces of modernists from Gershwin and Charlie Parker, to Stravinsky – and by virtue of his own reinventions of the standards as performer and re-composer – Mr Gebruers traversing his palimpsest of his uncompromising and elemental sound world.

Deo gratis…

Music – Disc One – 1: Playing with ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’; 2: Playing with ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’; 3: Playing with ‘Just A Gigolo’; 4: Playing with ‘You And The Night And The Music’ [1]; 5: Playing with ‘You And The Night And The Music’ [2]; 6: Playing with ‘You And The Night And The Music’ [3]; 7: Playing with ‘I Loves You Porgy’; 8: Playing with ‘Everything Happens To Me’; 9: Playing with an intermezzo [3]; 10: Playing with an intermezzo [4]; 11: Playing with ‘Just Friends’; 12: Playing with ‘La Vie En Rose’; 13: Playing with ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Just A Gigolo’. Disc Two – 1: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [1]; 2: Playing with ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ [1]; 3: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’; 4: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [2]; 5: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [3]; 6: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [4]; 7: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [5]; 8: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [6]; 9: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [7]; 10: Playing with ‘Never Let Me Go’ [8]; 11: Playing with ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ [2]; 12: Playing with ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’; 13: Playing with ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ and ‘The Folks Who Live On The hill’. Disc Three – 1: Playing with ‘It Never Entered My Mind’; 2: Playing with ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ [1]; 3: Playing with ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ [1]; 4: Playing with ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ [2]; 5: Playing with ‘Everything Happens To Me’; 6: Playing with ‘Last Night When We Were Young’ [1]; 7: Playing with ‘Born To Be Blue’; 8: Playing with an intermezzo [1]; 9: Playing with ‘Last Night When We Were Young’ [2]; 10: Playing with ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ [3]; 11: Playing with ‘All The Things You Are’ [1]; 12: Playing with ‘Donna Lee’ [1]; 13: Playing with ‘Donna Lee’ [3]; 14: Playing with ‘Donna Lee’ [2]; 15: Playing with an intermezzo [2]; 16: Playing with ‘Never let me go’ and ‘Everything Happens To Me’; 17: Playing with ‘Never let me go’ [9]; 20: Playing with ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ [4].

Musicians – Seppe Gebruers: two pianos [each tuned a quartertone apart].

Released – 2023
Label – el NEGOCITO Records [eNR 116, 117 & 118]
Runtime – Disc One 58:28 Disc Two 51:26 Disc Three 1:00:10

 

 

 

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