The biggest treat for a music reviewer is to receive a really good CD by a musician or group that you are not at all familiar with. Fabien Degryse’s CD titled, prosaically, Fabien Degryse Jazz is one such pleasant surprise. Degryse is a guitarist and composer from Belgium who has spent quite a bit of time in a variety of fusion bands, and accompanied several of that country’s better known jazz instrumentalists (Toots Thielemans, Steve Houben and Richard Rossellet, to name a few). ...Jazz is Degryse’s fourth CD as a leader and was first released in 2000, though it has been reissued in 2006 for wider release via the internet.
Basically, the music is jazz-rock fusion of the intelligent, introspective variety. Degryse’s compositions are pleasant but edgy, engaging yet quirky, rather like the so-called Canterbury (e.g., Hugh Hopper Band, National Health, Soft Machine, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, etc.) style of jazzy-rock in their gentle whimsy, intricate structures, complex harmonies and driving rhythms. The band’s punchily aggressive jazz-rock style also owes a bit to some of John McLaughlin’s work from the 80s and 90s and perhaps Steve Kahn’s Eyewitness trio.
Another appealing aspect of the CD is its instrumentation. Keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin uses genuine ‘old-school’ keyboards such as the Fender Rhodes electric piano and the Hammond B-3 organ. These sorts of sounds are vastly more appealing than the lame door-chime sounds produced by most digital keyboards. For most of the CD’s ten tunes, Degryse uses a steel-string acoustic guitar instead of an electric guitar. When he does pick up the electric on "Rap I. D.," "Pretty Nat" and "Petite Annonce," he has a meaty, substantial sound. Degryse eschews cheap pyrotechnics, hammer-ons and flashy runs all over the fretboard, preferring to solo with a fluid, lyrical and highly personal style that owes more to players like Django Reinhardt and Philip Catherine than to the usual jazz/fusion guitar heroes.
The compositions are well-constructed and wonderfully varied, with complex harmonies, lucid melodies and intricate structures. A few of the pieces utilize samples of traffic sounds and other oddities for contrast or for humorous effect. Degryse's backing band is really excellent and not merely competent or workmanlike. Dumoulin, in particular, adds a great deal to the proceedings and shines on pretty much all of his solo opportunities. There are no bald spots or clunkers. Each tune offers the listener something to think about and enjoy.Fabien Degryse Jazz is definitely worth seeking out, particularly if you are a fan of intelligent, original, well-played jazz-rock fusion that totally avoids the typical fusion cliches. Degryse and Dumoulin are definitely players to watch. I, for one, am grateful that Fabien Degryse gave the public at large another chance to recognize his obvious gifts.