AMN Reviews: Raf Vertessen Quartet – LOI (2020; El Negocito)

Not knowing of Brooklyn-based Belgian drummer Raf Vertessen, LOI caught my attention because of his bandmates – trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist Anna Webber, and bassist Nick Dunston. Webber, in particular, has made her mark over the last several years as a composer and bandleader, while O’Farrill and Dunston are showing up on more and more recordings of note.

Roughly composed, the music of LOI also incorporates elements of surprise and looseness. While a studio recording, it was put down after the quartet toured Europe for two weeks, playing variations of the material. Thus, the album has a live and open feel while still exhibiting a logical structure.

Vertessen is as comfortable with complex themes as he is with freely-improvised atmospherics and blowouts. His approach is rattling, exploring the nooks and crannies of his set with some use of extended techniques. If anything, he channels the great European free jazz drummers (Bennink, Oxley, Nilssen-Love) but with influences from the modern New York scene.

Webber and O’Farrill are an interesting pair, the former more ready to go outside while the latter plays in a somewhat less radical fashion. This comes together as a push-and-pull, with Webber testing the boundaries and O’Farrill staying mostly grounded. Webber’s cerebral approach is on full display – fans of her previous releases will find much to like here.

Dunston’s contributions are the most subtle and suffer from modestly low volume in the mix, but he does not intend to stand out. While staying busy, his playing is unobtrusive. Thus, it is a bit easy to miss at first. But a thorough listen of LOI focusing on the bass lines is rewarding in and of itself.

LOI is an intriguing and compelling release from a relative newcomer. It covers a great deal of ground sonically and texturally. Case in point, there is a certain playfulness to some of Vertessen’s tunes that breaks up what is otherwise a serious and attention-demanding listen. Highly recommended.