Belgian vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer began her musical career on the classical path, focusing on contemporary pieces while studying at a performing arts school in Antwerp, but when she noticed how many pieces simulated the feel of improvised music she yearned to play the real thing. She decided to study jazz at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where she’s still enrolled, but for the last two years she’s had the best sort of musical lessons, playing in real life situations. She’s spent time in Oslo, working sporadically with some of the scene’s most important figures—including Kjetil Moster, Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, Havard Wiik, and Paal Nilssen-Love—and in Lisbon, hanging out in the record shop Trem Azul, which is owned by the same fellow who runs the increasingly important Clean Feed label.
While in Lisbon, Vandeweyer and Brazilian saxophonist Alipio C. Neto cofounded Imi Kollektief, an international quintet featuring French trumpeter Jean-Marc Charmier and the Portuguese rhythm section of bassist João Hasselbring and drummer Rui Gonçalves. The band’s sole recording, Snug as a Gun (Clean Feed, 2006), offers the only extended evidence of Vandeweyer’s work; while the songs are spiky and angular, her harmonically rich, jagged lines recall the golden era of Blue Note Records, when Bobby Hutcherson was a fixture on loads of classic albums. Sadly, Vandeweyer’s playing is too low in the mix, but when she solos or her darkly shimmering chords fight their way through, her talent is plain. The raw energy of the quintet and the predilection of Neto to ramp his solos into explosive free jazz terrain fits in nicely with some of the free jazz made here in Chicago, so Vandeweyer ought to feel right at home when she plays three gigs with locals this week.
Tomorrow, August 1, she’ll be joined by a terrific band (guitarist Jeff Parker, reedist Dave Rempis, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Mike Reed) on a program of her tunes at the Hideout; she says her music has changed greatly since she cut the Imi Kollektief record. Then on Thursday at Elastic and Sunday at the Hungry Brain she’ll improvise with two different line-ups of Chicagoans.