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The music of Canadian saxophonist Peter Van Huffel does not ask to be loved at a first sight. On the contrary, the approach with the many-sided look typical of his compositions initially tends to throw the listener in a state of suspicion about the directions that might be investigated and, in due course, taken by its creator. But after a few listens the precise scope of Van Huffels creativity becomes evident, each of the ingredients meant to be there for a reason. The sum of these motivations is what attributes a specific individuality to the final outcome "Like The Rusted Key" appears as an interesting demonstration of the axiom according to which revolutions are not always necessary to make a statement worthy of consideration in nowadays jazz.
As previously hinted, the tracks span across an ample gamut of moods and intentions. Besides the leaders alto sax - a voice that appears elegantly tantalizing more than impulsively edgy - the main presence is that of Jesse Stacken, whose pianism is acutely complementary to Van Huffels thematic sketches and, just occasionally, slightly biting improvisations. The mix of liquidness and synchronized dissection of otherwise reasonably regular materials not infrequently tending to resemble certain pages of the ECM book, think Rainer Brüninghaus is the factor that determines a rise in our level of interest. Elegiac paragraphs and nervous harmonic transactions are both faces of the same coin. Bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Samuel Rohrer seem to strengthen a kinship within the quartet, figuring as an accurate rhythm section when the moment is right but also actively contributing to the contrapuntal grain via expert splashing of percussive hues and lenitive arco passages that depict an unsuspected nonconforming romanticism.
Amidst all of this, the track that stands out is Melancholic: caressing silence in between rarefied single chords left to resonate for a while, giving time to the musicians to prepare their next move, allowing us to concentrate without a necessity of anticipating what will follow. The piece is emblematic of the quartets responsiveness, also visible in erratic episodes such as the dissonantly energetic Enghavevej. Ultimately, this ability in jumping queues, avoiding strict definitions and immediately defining the object of a particular tune is the winning card of this unpretentiously intelligent CD.
Saxophonist Peter Van Huffel is an active performer in many of the worlds top jazz scenes. He performs frequently in important jazz cities such as New York and Berlin, and leads numerous tours each year around Europe, the US and his native Canada. Steve Smith of Time Out New York has referred to Peter as a compelling melodist with a fiery outward-bound streak and a penchant for layering opposed rhythms in quirky, compelling ways..." and in a review of 2008s Hufflignon, Wilbur MacKenzie (All About Jazz NY)
said that Van Huffels playing is richly nuanced, with melody and texture seamlessly integrated to create colorful and evocative statements.
The former PVH Quintet (with Jesse Stacken, Scott DuBois, Michael Bates and Jeff Davis) held regular performances at such New York staples as the 55 Bar and the Cornelia Street Café during Peters NYC residency from 2002 to 2008, and can be heard on Peters 2007 Fresh Sound Records release,
Silvester Battlefield. Recently however, Peter has developed a new international quartet featuring musicians from all over the globe who came together in Berlin during the summer of 2009 to rehearse and perform Peters new compositions, and to record a new disc for the Fresh Sound New Talent label, Like the Rusted Key. This new quartet also features pianist Jesse Stacken from New York City, along with Canadian bassist Miles Perkin (best known for his work with French pianist Benoit Delbec), and renowned Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer. Like the Rusted Key was released in February 2010.
Aside from the new quartet, Peter is working vigorously on his collaborative project with Belgian vocalist Sophie Tassignon to develop a whole new program to be toured and recorded in the coming months. This group (also featuring Canadian-New York based bassist Michael Bates, and Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser) completed one tour of the US and Canada and three tours of Europe during 2008 and 2009; and they released their debut CD in October 2008 on the renowned Portuguese label, Clean Feed Records, a label known for their work with such avantgarde artists as Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker and hailed by All About Jazz NY as one of
the five most important jazz labels in the world today.
Peter has also recently developed a new Berlin-based Rock / Free Jazz Trio called GORILLA MASK featuring bassist Roland Fidezius and drummer Rudi Fischerlehner; and he can also be heard as both a collaborator and a sideman on a number of different recordings and live performances with a variety of artists from around the globe.
"The Berlin-based Canadian alto saxophonist, Peter van Huffel may be one of the most intense performers on this instrument. He creates sharp images with his playing, is exceedingly energeticin sections of music that demand quieter moments his calmness is most elastic and tautand although he has a tendency to play with broad glissandi almost throughout Like The Rusted Key, he has an inventive sense of rhythm. In this respect he is like Eric Dolphy, who played with a pulse that originated from the inventions of Charlie Parker, but carried the ideas of that genius into a wholly different sphere of consciousness. While Van Huffel may have some ground to cover before he hits the markers that Dolphy did in his lifetime, he may be half way there already.
Like The Rusted Key, the seventh album by Van Huffel, is extremely intelligent, with a repertoire comprising composed themes and a great deal of wonderfully improvised pieces by a quartet that includes saxophonist and pianist, Jesse Stacken, bassist Miles Perkin, and drummer Samuel Rohrer; musicians who seem up to the challenge of Van Huffel's complex musical structures. The saxophonist has a chameleon-like nature when it comes to stretching with his sinewy musical ideas. "Drift," which starts sotto voce, almost hesitatingly develops a strong theme about 3 minutes into the song and features some memorable improvisations from everyone. "Tangent" is characterized by its rhythmic propulsion and a unique modular theme, and even though it stops suddenly en route to its climax for a kind of alto intermezzo that deconstructs the theme completely, the musicians find reserves to regroup and rebuild the momentum of the piece once again.
"Enghavevej" is a joyful piece, full of vim and vigor, especially from Stacken's piano improvisations, while "Excerpt Two" is of a minimalist nature. "Backward Momentum" features some of the finest interplay possible within an environment that is composed. The long and brooding "Melancholic" is centered on slow, almost interminable piano progressions that are both sensitive and light-hearted. "Beast II" is a dark piece full of atmosphere and menace, with a beautifully laid out architecture. Van Huffel's work on this album is startlingly attractive because his compositions are muscular and tough. Moreover, he is a fine stylist when it comes to arranging, always employing voices that are strong and rich, culled from a broad, deep palette of sound. Despite the fact that the music almost always transcends the mainstream with often raw and extravagant improvisations, the close attention that the composer pays to themes and song structures makes it always accessible and easy to fall in with.
Perhaps the only thing missing may be the woody shades and earthy tones of the clarinet, an instrument that Van Huffel also plays exceedingly well. But that may grist for the musician's grinding on another day. And who knows, that may well be the day when this talented artist returns from the rarefied musical regions that this fine album inhabits."
Paul D'Gama Rose -All About Jazz
"I saw this young quartet perform in less than optimal circumstances, in a pub with over two hundred students totally uninterested in the band performing, probably considering them nothing more than background noise to their chats. The four musicians are Berlin-based Canadian altoist Peter Van Huffel, pianist Jesse Stacken, bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Samuel Rohrer, and all four extremely rich in their skills and versatility. They feel as easily at home in pieces with composed themes as they are on total improvisations. "Drift" starts hesitatingly but evolves into a nice theme and strong improvisations, "Tangent" has a great rhythmic drive, a strong unison theme, allowing for great staccato accentuations, then stopping abruptly for an alto solo intermezzo that tears the piece to pieces, and even if the band re-joins, it does seem to get off the ground again, but of course the great theme builds up momentum again to come to its finale. "Enghavevej" is more joyful, "Excerpt Two" is more minimalist, "Backward Momentum" another beauty of composed interplay, "Melancholic" is driven by the slowest piano chord progression ever heard, making it fun and sensitive at the same time, "Beast II" is dark and menacing. The compositions are strong, the voices rich, the sound pallette broad and deep. This music goes well beyond mainstream because of its sometimes raw delivery, wild improvisations, deconstructionist attitude, but the careful attention to themes, structures and arrangement keep the music relatively accessible. This is clever and intense music."
Stef -Free Jazz Blog
"Peter Van Huffel is a Canadian-born alto saxophonist who recently settled in Berlin after a six-year period in New York. His new quartet reflects all of those geographic connections, bringing together New York pianist Jesse Stacken, a mainstay of Van Huffel's New York quintet, Canadian bassist Miles Perkin, and the Swiss-born, Berlin-resident drummer Samuel Rohrer.
To call Van Huffel a composer, in the casual parlance of jazz, is almost a misnomer. He really composes; almost every piece a tautly structured individual work that provides strong thematic material and impetus for the improvising. The opening "Drift" makes subtle shifts in tonality, working from an initial toy-piano tinkling to cover a spectrum from Far to Middle East and on. The moody "Melancholic" unfolds with a glacial architecture in which sounds and time are suspended, while the closing "Atonement" is at once brooding and radiant, the almost liturgical alto line shot through with the bass' soaring harmonics. It is music of real power, with Van Huffel's alto always possessed of a focused clarity, a vision of linear necessity.
His sense of compositional form and his intense playing are essentially complementary, their interdependence notable on complex structures like "Backward Momentum." Stacken's piano is a source of tremendous momentum, his dense, rhythmically explosive playing sometimes invoking the drive and complexity of early Cecil Taylor. He thrives particularly on the pointillist "Tangent," and in the "Beast" series that arises throughout the CD and which alternately emphasizes tensile formal structures and free improvisation. Perkin is particularly adept at bowed passages and Rohrer is a complete percussionist, whether driving the group dialogues or creating glittering soundscapes with various metal instruments. The band is every bit the equal of Van Huffel's compositions, creating its own continuous dialogue and highly developed identity to reshape the music into a complete and collective expression."
Stuart Broomer -All About Jazz
"Like Anneler, fellow alto saxophonist and composer Van Huffel employs avant-garde techniques and elements of contemporary Classical music to the pieces on Like a Rusted Key. Van Huffel is very much an expressionist. His music has a bite and edge, and often threatens to veer into atonality. Sometimes he just starts there, as on Backward Momentum. He also shows a desire for creating the kind of unity found in through-composed music within an improvising ensemble. The closer, Atonement, has the leader and bassist Perkin (using a bow) playing together, never wandering more than a few notes from each other as the yearning melody, like the slow movement of a raga, continues to unfold and lap back over itself. Melancholic is a series of chords struck and then, over the next 20 or more seconds, left to decay. The piano introduces the idea, but, over the course of the almost 10 minute track, the leaders saxophone, bowed cymbal, and bowed bass stagger in. These experiments are presaged by the small sounds in the first seconds of Like the Rusted Key, but almost two minutes in Van Huffel introduces a minor melody, safe enough except for the way the penultimate phrase seems to veer away from the tonality, before the song resolves. Perkin extends the piquant melody into his solo over a march beat from Rohrer. By the time the leader solos, the bass and drums are rolling, providing a strong rhythmic current over which Van Huffel blows, leaving space early on for their commentary to shine through. As he does throughout, pianist Jesse Stacken pounds out ringing dense figures. The leader also intersperses freer fragmentsthose with beast in the titlethroughout the set. The session is held together by the leaders ardor, reflected in his frequent use of minor modes, and the vigorous, colorful playing by all hands. Though clearly well-conceived, the quartet manages to make the music sound raw and urgent. Another intriguing release."
David Dupont -Cadence Magazine (October, 2010)