Cheer Me, Perverts!

Psychoscout

ISMS

The Armstrong Mutations

Trap

Minoes

Larf

Bonk

Live At The Beursschouwburg

 

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Cheer Me, Perverts!

 

Will Metcalfe - Bearded magazine.co.uk, 24/06/09

Cheer Me, Perverts! is an anagram of Flat Earth Society’s Peter Vermeersch – clarinetist and bandleader of Belgium’s Flat Earth Society. The 14-piece jazz ensemble play music like few others; with both feet planted firmly in the avant-garde, Vermeersch and co. engage the listener in a dual, move or be moved almost. The ten tracks that comprise this, their ninth record veer from circular insanity towards a hypnotic anarchy.
‘Mutt’ is a broken circus chime – a writhing, spiralling eight-minute exploration of the broken, the demented and the plain wrong. One moment it’s hell on a saxophone and the next Vermeersch breaks through all calming and doe eyed; you might think you know bizarre but it seems Flat Earth Society are here to convince you otherwise. Cheer Me, Perverts! is a record swimming with joy – ‘Bad Linen’ is chaotic, punctuated with wayward sax and unruly percussion before melting down into yet another carnival anti-theme.
The surrealism of the record is not limited to the music – opener ‘Vole Sperm Reverie’ boasts perhaps the strangest title of the year and leads off with a blustering guitar line before the band kick in with the most cacophonous of choruses. Combining traditional jazz sounds with a more exploratory, roving element that brings the band dangerously close to the realms of Mr. Scruff and Captain Beefheart.
Flat Earth Society are a band that fail to acknowledge genre for the best.

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Alarm Magazine, June 2009

This vibrant, upbeat big-band jazz ensemble entwines circus, burlesque, lounge, and Cirque du Soleil sounds in its quirky mix — one that counts on 23 regular members.
The title of this second album for Crammed Discs is an anagram of the group’s leader, Belgian composer/clarinetist Peter Vermeersch.  It’s a fitting title for an album that sounds joyous and debauched — an album that should vie for best jazz disc of 2009.

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Matt Evans - Rock-a-Rolla, May/June 2009

Something about Belgium inspires its citizens to gather in large numbers to form rollickingly great high-energy genre-splicing big-band ensembles. Think of One, Galatasaray, and Flat Earth Society, to name but three. FES comprises 14 brash, super-talented instrumentalists in the thrall of composer/clarinettist Peter Vermeersch. Their ninth album rewires the big-band idiom with a severely swinging math-meets-jazz sensibility, exuberant dramatic flair and an awe-inspiring sense of harnessed chaos. At speed , FES are unassailable – take opener ‘Vole Sperm Reverie’, a lost cop theme powered by grimy gumshoe-funk horns, or the rampaging ‘Flatology’, which splices hard-bop velocity with Monk-style melodic tangents. Yet even the sedate tunes seethe with barely contained energy – indeed the brittle melodies of ‘Too Sublime in Sin’ shatter under the strain, unleashing diabolical discordant forces. Big, boisterous and brassy, Cheer Me, Perverts!, is as slinky as sleazy as it gets, and offers more thrills per second than surfing on a lava flow with an angry baboon stuffed in your trews.

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Simon Chandler - www.experimusic.com, 25/05/09
Unlike with politicians, who are often compelled to step down if they even hint at possessing sexual organs, it’s very easy for us to forgive musicians and artists for their personal failings and eccentricities. We forgive Morrissey for being a pleasure-hating misanthrope, we forgive Salvador Dalí for referring to himself in the third person and stealing the pen of anyone who asked for his autograph, and we forgive Frank Zappa for naming his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Rodan and Diva (hopefully none of them work in the building trade). And now we should also reserve some forgiveness for Belgium’s Flat Earth Society, because even though their name seems to suggest a risible belief in the world being flat rather than spherical (or is that ellipsoidal now?), the eccentric, vibrant and often intense jazz on their new long player, ‘Cheer Me, Perverts!’, is more than enough to compensate for any antiquated notion they might hold.
An anagram for the name of clarinettist and band leader Peter Vermeersch, ‘Cheer Me, Perverts!’ is Flat Earth Society’s sixth album, and as the name implies the Flemish group aren’t without an off-kilter sense of humour and play. ‘Vole Sperm Reverie’ escapes from the asylum with twangy, gumball guitars and mischievous, wayward trumpets, modulating at the drop of a hat and generally wrecking the place in a fit of free-spirited energy. But as soon as ‘Rearm, Get That Char!’ enters the scene with its jumpily syncopated rhythms and scenic melange of continental horns and keys, it quickly becomes apparent that FES aren’t one-trick ponies by any stretch of the imagination. They know how to mix mood, setting and pace, regularly doing so within the breadth of one song, and their sometimes patient, sometimes impetuous progressions make for a constantly engaging run of 10 tracks. Witness ‘Blind Inside’: this piece begins in an atmosphere of suffocating tension and drama, its descending piano and menacing spaghetti-western guitar bringing to mind a standoff at dawn between two desperados, before reaching a fever pitch that finds release in an unexpectedly bright and breezy yet still kinetic jaunt through manic flutes and ambrosial vibraphones.
And things actually get better in the second half of the album, with FES stepping up both the intensity and the ingenuity. Track 6, ‘Too Sublime in Sin,’ is a slab of elegantly plaintive midnight jazz severed in half by a jarring rumble of symbols and squawks, a rumble which sees all hell break loose in a joyous riot of uncontainable sax and trombone riffs before reverting to the piece’s original sleepiness. But it’s not just the sequencing of parts that makes ‘Cheer Me, Perverts!’ such an exciting listen. The parts themselves, in particular the sympathetic, dynamic interplay between band members, are just as worthy of praise, often being colourfully multi-layered, tunefully memorable, and full of challenging meter changes. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Flatology,’ which sees the band reach full flight in a whirlwind of effervescent swing licks and erratic free-jazz sections. Here FES flit to and from an air of celebration to emergency as they steadily build momentum towards the song’s peppy finale, and for all their frantic avant-gardisms it’s a highly cohesive and infectious piece of big band jazz.
That’s the beauty of ‘Cheer Me, Perverts!’ Not only does it marry experimental zest and accessible harmony, but it does so with more success and panache than anyone would’ve thought feasible. And for that Flat Earth Society should be revered as one of the best jazz bands around at the moment. Just don’t go anywhere near their science of Flatology. That is unless you possess the artistic talent to magically exonerate you of your weirdness.

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Sharon O’Connell - Time Out, 21/05/09

Bad Linen, track from Crammed Discs LP, ‘Cheer Me, Perverts!.

 

We picked this track for the sole purpose of repeating the post 9/11-joke about the SWAT team hiding out in John Lewis’s homeware department. They were looking for Bin Laden. Boom boom. Moving swiftly on… this is a brilliant piece of avant big-band (14-piece) jazz-funk – bold, brassy, bonkers ans very likely beloved by both Barry Adamson and Matthew Herbert.

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Flat Earthers hurl themselves over the edge

(Sid Smith - bbc.co.uk, 18/05/2009)

You get a lot of bang for you buck with the sixth album released by Belgium's Flat Earth Society. A cavalcade of extrovert performances erupt from this 14-piece group boasting tuba, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, euphonium, various saxes, keyboards, accordion, electric guitar and a riotous rhythm section in its line-up.

The intriguing album title comes from an anagram of the name of group leader Peter Vermeersch and he guides his top-notch players through the same anarchic territory as their last release, Psychoscout (2006), like some wild-eyed pied piper.

Recalling the madcap ensemble tendencies of Loose Tubes or the wry flourishes of Kurt Weill arranged for a Burlesque house band, every piece shines with exuberant, provocative charts.

Themes and variations jump out on top of each in a series of frenetic cat and mouse ambushes with the intricately scripted cartoonish violence of one of Scott Bradley's more fantastical Tom & Jerry scores.

Occasionally Vermeersch dials down the mayhem long enough to allow moments of exquisite sensitivity to be revealed, allowing the listener to pause for breath. Yet too often these are swamped in an avalanche of blaring horns and instrumental comedy routines.

This is a pity because whilst you can't fault the overall playing and inventive air, the hyperactive mania of the arrangements provokes a certain fatigue after a while. Nevertheless big, bold and frequently not so much zany as just plain daft, full marks for the full-on gusto with which these Flat Earthers hurl themselves over the edge.

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Big bang reinvention for big band swing

(Ian Shirley - Record collector, 15/05/09)
Stuart Nicholson’s book Is Jazz Dead? explores the genre from a modern perspective. Two fascinating chapters deal with the Stalinist revisionism of the Wynton Marsalis-led Lincoln Centre jazz programme, which celebrated the old at the expense of the new. Ellington and Basie’s big band music was reproduced, rather then played with the panache and inventive spirit of the originals.
Belgium’s Flat Earth Society would be spurned by the Lincoln Centre, as they turn the big band on its head, shuffling musical genres like a pack of cards. Opening track Vole Sperm Reverie sounds like a TV talk show theme overloaded with musical steroids, while Rearm, Get That Char! sounds like Monk rearranged by John Zorn and Hal Wilmer, with Miles Davis’ 70s wah wah trumpet. Smoke On Fire is a wonderful eight-minute suite that starts with a low bassoon prowl and ends up sounding like the Basie Band playing as they slip off the deck of the Titanic and into the sea; Mutt is a pendulum of pure joy. An album worth acquiring for lovers of jazz, experimental music and anything that swings like the devil.

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United Mutations blog

"Cheer Me, Perverts" (an anagram for Peter Vermeersch) is the latest Flat Earth Society album. This is big band music like you 've never heard before (not counting the previous FES albums). Up-tempo, hyperkinetic, angular and funny melody lines and rhythms are mixed into 10 impressive compositions.
The band has a very rich and colourful sound. The solos are superb and fit in perfectly with the compositions. This is music at its best.
Frank Zappa, Raymond Scott, the Sun Ra Arkestra, … you name it. They're all in there somewhere. This latest FES album is essential listening. But then again, we wouldn't expect less. I want to see cartoons that use this music !!

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Psychoscout

 

DOWNBEAT HOTBOX - John Corbett: The '90s downtown New York esthetic and mutated. Flat Earth Society, hailing from belgium, has every bit of the circusy, genre-jumping, soundtrack-esque, Raymond Scott-like, smirky moodiness that characterizes the Knitting Factory diaspora. Where that sound can sometimes turn snarky and sarcastic, the group wisely remains earnest and open, though they are sometimes too clever for unqualified endorsement.
The 14-strong band, weighted toward lower horns and brass, is punchy and dynamic, playfully romping through clarinetist/leader Peter Vermeersch's charts. With a big sound and juicy arrangements, they're stacked with able improvisers, perfectly exemplified on “In Between Rivers”, which breaks down from the huge orchestral sound to an intimate trumpet/drum duet. On “Withhout,” the intimacy happens –this time jittery free play from drums and trombone– in the company of a sedate composed part for piano and band. Drummer Teun Verbruggen deserves special mention for his wide ranging abilities, even if he does cop mercilessly from New York drummer Jim Black on Uri Caine's “Snaggletooth.”
The band breaks from raucous shenanigans a couple of times, including the short vibes feature “Lie To Me” and a less successful vocal forary for Roland Vancampenhout, whose delivery on “Hilton's Heaven” shows an aspiration to capture something of Tom Waits that's too close and, at the same time, way off mark. Vancampenhout's hyped up guitar cameo on “Edward, Why Don't You Play Some Blues” also fails to impress. The band is better when it sticks to its comfort zone, like the intricate cartoonish parts on the title track, which is in 9/8 time.

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www.allaboutjazz.com - Nic Jones: Sit up and listen. Flat Earth Society is a big band with the integrity of a magpie, in the sense that it goes for the shiniest elements of a cultural outlook that takes in a kind of homage to Kurt Weill, incidental music for old TV detective series, and perhaps a touch of Henry Cow at its most formal. All that makes for listening that could have you laughing out loud or wondering happily over the sheer bravura of it all. Catch an earful of “Clusterthing,” featuring a riff ponderous enough to make a stampede of elephants seem fleet of foot by comparison, and traces of such formidable complexity that they should only be listened to whilst grinning maniacally. You might just find your outlook on life is transformed in an entirely positive way. By comparison, “Hilton's Heaven” is an exercise in dark restraint in which deft keyboard touches serve notice of how this band has mastered colour, shedding some light upon the twilit ambience; Roland Vancampennout's vocal sounds like a Belgian J.J. Cale.
When it comes down to it, this is a big band whose music effectively sidesteps the common discussion of the respective merits of sections and soloists. That said, Marc Meeuwissen's trombone on the title track is an embodiment of the bawdy, whilst Bruno Vansina's baritone sax on the oddly named “Lax” blows up the kind of vertiginous storm that's likely to have those of nervous disposition running for cover.
Even greater credit must go to clarinettist Peter Vermeersch and keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe, however, as their compositions make up the programme on Psychoscout—and only rarely in recent times has such coherence between compositional framework and musicianship been acheived. To call it “Ellingtonian” might be both apt and unhelpful, but it doesn't alter the fact that this disc ought to be figuring in those end of year lists, if there's any justice in the world.

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www.allmusic.com - Sean Westergaard: Flat  Earth Society has been making some great, adventurous big-band music for almost a decade, but they're only starting to gain attention outside their native Belgium. Mike Patton helped raise their profile by releasing Isms, a collection taken from their previous four  releases, but Psychoscout is their first album of new material to be released worldwide. Leader Peter Vermeersch's compositions share some similarities with Willem  Breuker: episodic writing that moves quickly from theme to theme with a healthy dose of humor, but FES doesn't have the almost slapstick element that Breuker's Kollektief can have. Vermeersch's tunes are highly cinematic, and would be put to good use in an exciting chase scene ("In Between Rivers," "Lax") or a hard-boiled detective flick ("Lie to Me"). The players are all great, with some especially nice piano by Peter Vandenberghe, fiery solos from Benjamin Boutreur on alto, Vermeersch on clarinet, and the addition of organ or synth on some tracks which gives the big band quite a different flavor than most big bands. FES can also bring the energy down and deliver a smoky ballad, with vibraphones adding a nice nocturnal touch on "Lie to Me." "Without" starts with a slow piano figure and some outside horn playing before moving  into a section with spooky keyboards and vibes, and then into a lurching  groove. They really know how to use dynamics to keep the pieces moving, and Vermeersch's horn charts are fantastic. If you thought big band music in the 21st century was confined to repertory bands, think again. Flat Earth Society is a hard-swinging outfit that knows the past but has its eye on the future, and Psychoscout shows that there's a whole lot of life yet in the big band tradition.

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www.allaboutjazz.com - Troy Collins: This Belgian big band has made quite a name for itself on the international underground scene. After touring with Mike Patton's postmodern metal band Fantomas, the group accrued some well deserved notoriety for its boundless spirit and unconventional outlook. While the members of the Flat Earth Society can readily ply pre-war 1940s big band charts with conviction and emotional commitment, they can also whip up a frenzy in the matter of such postmodern iconoclasts as John Zorn and Phillip Johnston. With a cracked aesthetic residing somewhere between Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott and Frank Zappa, the FES projects an in-your-face attitude. Founding composer Peter Vermeersch, formerly the leader of experimental Knitting Factory favorite X-Legged Sally, has covered everything from Louis Armstrong to the Residents with this lineup, as well as performing film soundtrack work. Psychoscout finds them exploring a varied set of original tunes that never lack invention.
The melodramatic screams interwoven into the furious free bop of the noir apocalypse ”Clusterthing” only begin to hint at the lunacy to come. “Hilton's Heaven” includes maniacal narration worthy of the surrealism of Fred Lane, and “Gulls and Buoys” blends vintage Henry Mancini with a powerhouse rhythm. “Edward, Why Don't You Play Some Blues” is an electric meltdown featuring the acidic skronk guitar of guest soloist Roland Vancampennout.
The title track is a blistering workout that defines the group's aesthetic, featuring contrapuntal horn charts, brassy fanfares, serpentine reeds, propulsive rhythms and boisterous solos. This is an acoustic big band with the energy of an electrified punk band. But much like punk, the group's enthusiasm and vigor is sonically accessible: it's never so extreme that it drifts into cacophonous excess.
“ Lie To Me” and “Waterman” drop the energy level a notch, convincingly demonstrating the massive groups capacity for tenderness and lyricism, if only briefly. “Snaggletooth” is the inverse, a postmodern excursion into stylistic chameleonism, complete with modulated tempos, genre changes and extreme dynamic shifts in volume and density.
There are few contemporary ensembles in modern music that quite fit into the same category as this energetic and zany outfit. As unique and virtuosic as it is creative, the FES has a sure-fire winner with Psychoscout. Be sure to check your sonic inhibitions at the door.

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The Guardian - John L. Walters: Belgian composer Peter Vermeersch, formerly of X-legged Sally, knows how to make a big noise whatever the size of the band. Now, with the 14-plus members of Flat Earth Society, he can make an even bigger racket. “Big Band” can mean anything from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra to Lambchop, but this one makes a sound that's somewhere between the electric jazz of Acoustic Ladyland and an abrasive Dutch new-music ensemble such as Orkest de Volharding. Saxes honk, bass guitars rattle, brass broods: only Steve Martland or Mike Westbrook do anything like this in the U.K. Vermeersch's tunes are angular and engaging, with a strong dose of the blues on dramatic epics like Hilton's Heaven and Edward, Why Don't You Play Some Blues, a touch of flamenco on Lax and some spirited improvisation on the sole non-original, Uri Caine's Snaggletooth.

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FES-isms

 

Scratchrecords.com: “Founded by clarinetist, saxophonist, composer/arranger Peter Vermeersch, Flat Earth Society has become one of Belgium’s most original bands on the jazz and avant-garde musical scene. Although the music of the 17 man FES has its roots in big band music, there is also a moment when the cleverly disguised humor and sarcasm shine through. FES greedily draws from influences such as swing, mambo, latin, chanson, cabaret, R&B and freestyle. Isms is a 19 track compilation showcasing tracks from previous FES albums (import only) as well as some unreleased material chosen by our own Mike Patton".

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Allmusic.com - Sean Westergaard: Love him or hate him, Mike Patton has very eclectic taste in music, and he's putting his money where his mouth is with the Ipecac label. Earlier in 2004, he had licensed Eyvind Kang's beautiful Virginal Co Ordinates from the Italian I Dischi di Angelica label, now he turns to Belgium (!) to give wider exposure to the Flat Earth Society, a progressive big band formed from two defunct Belgian groups, X-Legged Sally and Fukkeduk. The resulting album, Isms, draws from their four prior releases and presents a band capable of everything from beautiful chamber jazz miniatures to slinky crime-theme jazz noir to driving rock rhythms. The shorter pieces tend to be cues from their Minoes soundtrack album, and often serve as interludes between longer pieces. As mentioned, several of the tracks ("O.P.E.N.E.R.," "Zonk," "De Zoekactie") could have been put to good use the theme for some crime drama. "Pune" sounds something like an Asian brass band with crazed galloping percussion and a manic kazoo solo that sounds something like Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing kazoo instead of flute. "Funeral & Binche" starts out like New Orleans funeral music, then shifts gears and becomes quite exuberant. "Ellemeet en de Katten" is a short but menacing piece that contrasts nicely with the moody, nocturnal bass, Rhodes, and vibes of "Tibbe Hoort Iets." The songs are all very approachable, but there's plenty of punch in the playing and soloing and great detailed arrangements. Fans of progressive jazz orchestras and big bands like Pierre Dørge's New Jungle Orchestra, Sun Ra, and even Frank Zappa should find a lot to enjoy here.

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Pitchforkmedia.com - Matthew Murphy: At first glance, Mike Patton's noise-mongering Ipecac label may seem like an odd home for Flat Earth Society; then again, this avant-garde Belgian big band would seem like a misfit in any company.
Led by veteran composer and clarinetist Peter Vermeersch, Flat Earth Society are well-versed in a broad array of big band jazz vocabularies, and their music is an unruly confluence of Carl Stalling's "Merrie Melodies", Henry Mancini's cosmopolitan swank, and Sun Ra's cosmic slop-- all performed with the whiplash attention span of John Zorn's Naked City. The group's previous four albums have only been available in the U.S. at import prices; so on Isms, Patton has thoughtfully compiled 19 introductory tracks-- including a couple previously unreleased ones-- to help bring you up to speed with FES's brand of lunacy.
Due to the band's rambunctious nature each FES album displays multiple personalities, but Isms compounds this schizophrenia by drawing material from such distinctive records as 2002's Minoes, the soundtrack to a children's movie, and 2003's The Armstrong Mutations, on which the group re-interprets the works of Louis Armstrong. As a result this collection undergoes such violent mood shifts from track to track that you'll either be enthralled by FES's seemingly bottomless creativity or else you'll feel like you just spent an afternoon on the Tilt-A-Whirl after a heavy lunch of ketchup and mustard.
Like many European jazz acts, Vermeersch and FES draw as much inspiration from such 20th century composers as Stravinsky or Bartok (not to mention art-rockers like Zappa or Beefheart) as they do from the blues or other more traditional American sources. These artier influences are especially evident on some of the shorter orchestrated pieces from the Minoes soundtrack like the Morricone-esque "Minoes Op Boodschap" or the mischievously atmospheric strings of "Ellement En De Katten". But they also surface on longer songs like "Zonk" or "Trap", which emphasize complex, turbulent arrangements and strenuous group interplay over solos or individual virtuosity.
The group's size and membership fluctuate (There may be as many as 20 players on some tracks) but regulars like bassist Kristof Roseeuw, trumpeter Bart Maris, and tuba player Leonaar De Graeve consistently deliver memorable performances. Best of all might be the two tracks here from The Armstrong Mutations, the percussive-heavy "(Little) King Ink" and the woozy Preservation Hall stomp of "Funeral and Binche", both of which strike the ideal balance between reverence and radicalism while Vermeersch plays his horn as sweetly as Sidney Bechet. Hopefully fleeting interludes of near-perfection like these are enough to sustain you while you chase Flat Earth Society around hairpin turns on theirÊunending quest to capture the next hot moment.

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The Armstrong Mutations

 

P-Magazine: Words don't come easy to hail the qualities of this cd! This is the most intelligent, beautiful, exciting, thrilling and exuberant human music that I came across the past time.

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Focus Knack: Armstrong Mutations is a record without compromise, full of musical pluck and knowledge, and played by a gang that can laugh with themselves. In short: not to be missed.

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Trap

 

Humo: "(...) The titletrack 'trap' and 'o.p.e.n.e.r' could have been good soundtracks for the American gangstermovies of the seventies. (...)Even if a slight 10% of the people that went to see Minoes buy Trap, you won't hear us complain the following years."

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Focus Knack: "(...) Trap is a fantomish, daring record. What Vermeersh would like to tell the listener is not always clear, but it remains unbounding."

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Minoes

 

Knack: "Asking Peter Vermeersch to compose the score for this catmovie, turned out to be a very good idea of director Vincent Bal. The music is as mobile and unpredictable as a kitten".

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Filmkrant: "You not only see Minoes slip and slide over the roof on her high heels, you also hear her doing so by the sound of a warm 'walking bass' and drumsticks softly tickling the cymbals. The guitars sound suitably horny, the bass clarinet spins cosy as a topcat on an electric blanket. And as the icing on a delicious cake, every now and then Vermeersch allows himself a musical joke."

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Filmmuziek.be: "The cd largely contains numerous short tracks, in general the compositions seem simple. In fact it's these returning themes in alternating and fresh orchestrations that make this a good soundtrack that remains very enjoyable, also when you have listened to it several times."

 

For this score, Peter Vermeersch was nominated with a World Soundtrack Award 2002. The film received the dutch film award 'Het Gouden Kalf' in the categories 'best film and best actress'. Due to his Belgian nationality, director Vincent Bal could not be nominated.

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Larf

 

Rotterdams Dagblad: "Like a hunting thunderstorm, Peter Vermeersch's compositions push and drive the performance. Brilliant music."

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De Standaard: "A truly amazing battery. With wide flows of energy it impresses, in the silent moments it's moving. And in the end it leaves you looking deeply into your heart. A forcing experience."

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Knack: "Voices announce that tonight a child will become a king and then Peter Vermeersch is setting free the instruments into some amazing compositions, which evolve in one fluent movement to the apotheosis of the blues king. Larf is the icing on the cake of a long lasting art-brotherhood between Vermeersch and De Pauw... A mature fruit, eating and drinking at the same time, which makes up for an entire year of theatre."

 

De voorstelling Larf van en met Josse De Pauw en Peter Vermeersch werd bekroond met de Océ Podiumprijs 2000. De cd is de live registratie van de voorstellingen in de Stadsschouwburg van Brugge.

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Bonk

 

Oor: "The clever wind arrangements occasionally remind you of flamboyant circuses and sultry night clubs (...) A disc which is as equally characteristic as it is beautiful."

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Knack: "Peter Vermeersch is a master in almost guilelessly quoting musical history. Probably the most flexible band ever."

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De Morgen: "Whimsical fairground tunes, dented film themes, derailed jazz-digressions, you can all retrieve it (...) humour and imagination rule. The band plays with unimitable extremes."

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Live At The Beursschouwburg

 

De Morgen: "The music of the Flat Earth Society sounds playful and slightly eccentric: it finds itself in between jazz, chachacha, soundtracks and frivolous fairground tunes. (...) On this live debut, FES proved that simplicity can also be complex and that intricate is not necessarily synonymous with introverted."

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Knack: "Belgian big bands are expensive since the rise of the jukebox, but subsidies and wild playing fun sometimes work miracles. An example of the latter is The Flat Earth Society, a kind of big band formation by Peter Vermeersch. (...) FES combines refractorious satire with the fun of playing, humour and technical skill."

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Tijd Cultuur: "Flat Earth Society is a big band that strays from well-trodden paths (...) Strangely enough through the arrival of the Flat Earth Society, the flat Flemish country might become more rugged."

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FES ft. Ernst Reijseger

Lincoln Center, New York

Heliogabal

London Jazz Festival

The Oyster Princess

 

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FES ft. Ernst Reijseger - Jazz Middelheim, Antwerp, Belgium

 

Martin Longley - The Birmingham Press

A new day, another eccentric big band. Belgium’s own Flat Earth Society always display a fundamentally similar heart, but this is a gang that often favours some kind of collaborative theme, a new project to keep their over-fertile minds hyperactive.
The concept for this set was to invite Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger on board, offering him ample soloing space, whether bowing with sleek strokes or plucking his axe like a banjo on his knee, or even employing a skeletal variant model, which looks rather like a
Malian n’goni.

Reijseger is still most renowned for being a longtime member of the Clusone 3 with drummer Han Bennink and reedsman Michael Moore. Trumpeter Bart Maris had been running the late night avant-jam sessions during the course of the festival, and emerged from the ranks to play an arresting solo, captivating for its sonic properties, but also its visual oddity, as he was the first hornman I’ve ever seen dipping his bell into soapy fluid and blowing large bubbles as part of his routine. Almost as strange was the interlude where keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe pranced centre-stage for a dance display, including a rare instance of barefoot tap-dancing.

Leader Peter Vermeersch’s between-tune announcements were doubtless suitably witty and surreal, but this non-Dutch speaking scribe wasn’t able to grasp their essence. When he speaks in English, though, his observations usually provoke a smile. All of the pieces were heavy with complex momentum, but there was always room for solo details in-between the ensemble ramrodding.

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Lincoln Center, New York

 

Andrey Henkin - The New York City Jazz Record (June 2011)

“We’re playing all of these tunes for the last time,” remarked clarinetist Peter Vermeersch, conductor and spokesperson for Belgium’s Flat Earth Society. He was speaking during the large ensemble’s premiere US performance at the David Rubenstein Atrium (May 19th), just two days before the heavily-advertised end of the world. This comment was very much in line with the group’s sardonic humor, naming songs after “our favorite dictators”, for example. The 15-piece group, a typical big band augmented by guitar, accordion and vibraphone (with the pianist also playing keyboard) offered up supremely coordinated madness, the likes of which American audiences more often expect from the Dutch.

But don’t forget that the two countries border each other and that Belgium itself is composed of two distinct ethnic groups. A similar dichotomy was in place musically: complex charts requiring intense focus leavened with low comedy. The audience certainly appreciated the latter though one wonders, given that this was a free concert, about the former. During the almost 90-minute set, the band performed Carla Bley’s “Musique Mecanique”, displaying what may be a more accurate foundation for their aesthetic, more so than, say, Willem Breuker’s Kollektief. And unlike that band, the personalities were subsumed, the overall sound most important.

The group was, world still existing, to perform as accompaniment to the film The Oyster Princess at the Museum of the Moving Image the next day, an intriguing notion.

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Heliogabal

 

New York Times: Mr Vermeersch's score, far removed from the historicized big-band sounds one mostly hears these days in the United States, sounded fresh, inventive and witty.

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Volkskrant: A trumpet that hesitates, a sax that moans, toils and moils, till the rest falls in and the musicians get everything out of their instruments. The cheerful cacaphony goes over in a swinging rhythm, and what seemed to be a circusorchestra turns into a perfect bigband.

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London Jazz Festival

 

Flat jazz...not at all

(Ivan Hewett - Telegraph, 21/11/2007)

A band called Flat Earth Society sets you up for something determinedly against conventional wisdom, and this “cult Belgian band” of 13 players is certainly that. They come on to the cramped Purcell Room stage with artful casualness, two or three of the band breaking into a number (or possibly three different numbers) before the rest have arrived. The accordion player Wim Willaert picks up a wine glass and plays a note on it. It’s all cheerfully anarchic. Looking at this lot, you can understand why forming a government in Belgium might be tricky. But this is just a front for a big band that’s as tight and together as any I’ve seen. They’re led by clarinettist Peter Vermeersch, who also composes and arranges most of the band’s material. It’s soon clear what moves him musically. He loves blues and gospel, he loves old film noir, he loves Quincy Jones. But there’s a political heat there too. In Ich, Bin, George, Vermeesch pokes fun at American military music, and in another number Willaert takes on the role of Dr Goebbels, who keeps interrupting the band’s natural style to “correct” it, until all we’re left with is a relentless military beat. This is funny (and not just a fantasy, as Goebbels did in fact try to encourage a form of “Aryan” jazz), but it’s in pretty dubious taste, too. At one level, everything the band does is in bad taste. The music is full of bizarre and shocking juxtapositions, as in Without, which has a weird combination of a neon-lit muted trumpets and moody piano with strange fluttering sounds on clarinets. But, once you’ve got over the sheer oddity, the juxtaposition becomes poetic, though in a surreal way. It’s as if a night scene in a Raymond Chandler novel were suddenly invaded by a flock of seagulls. Vermeesch’s approach is risky, which is what makes it so energising. The chasm between the hectic drilled brilliance of the big band moments, and the sudden silences and strange “spacey” sounds that intersperse them is vast, and Vermeesch’s music could simply disappear down it. What saves it is the band itself. It’s the presence of some big personalities with virtuoso improvising skills that binds the whole experience together. Most extraordinary among them is the multi-instrumentalist and singer Tom Wouters, who on this showing must be one of the most talented musicians alive.

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John L Walters - Guardian (22/11/2007)

Flat Earth Society, a tight 15-piece band led by clarinettist and composer Peter Vermeersch, late of X-Legged Sally. Two brilliant sets confirmed how accomplished they are, twisting rapidly from theatrical bombast to tenderness, collective improv, mad movie-chase music and back to swinging anthems such as Gulls & Buoys and, er, Anthem 2004. Wet is Wet presented jazz as envisaged by Goebbels. Vermeersch grins impishly, like a young Daniel Libeskind, as he directs his close-knit ensemble. He is a monster talent, with an outrageously original band.

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The Oyster Princess

 

mac, Birmingham 02-10-10

- review by the Jazzbreakfast

The Belgian big band, Flat Earth Society, were playing a live soundtrack, written and arranged by their leader Peter Vermeersch, to Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess), an Ernst Lubitsch silent film from 1919.

It’s a surreal and extremely funny film, grotesque and slapstick by turns, and from this distance in time, and Lubitsch being less familiar than Chaplin or Keaton, would probably have provided a satisfyingly entertaining hour on its own.

The music transformed it into something much more enjoyable still.

The nature of the film, the opulence of the millionaire’s and his daughter’s lifestyle (his afternoon nap and her bath routine both highlights), the poverty of the Prince’s contrasting circumstances, the emphasis on drunkeness and its after-effects, all these give Vermeersch full licence to explore the comic brass band and circus band elements of the Flat Earth Society’s make-up, and his 13 players were managing a few laughs and smiles even as they were tied in to the demanding work of following conductor and film transmitted on supplementary screens.

And who could resist the screen board stating simply: “A foxtrot epidemic breaks out”?

Although it is mostly ensemble playing, there are occasional improvisational and solo sections built in. I also liked the fact that Vermeersch wasn’t hidebound to providing a continuous soundtrack, sometimes leaving silences, and and not always at the obvious moments. His choice of other sounds was brilliant, too. Bird calls are used at one point, mock operatic singing too, and incomprehensible mumbling… the wit and humour of the music adding extra layers of humour and insight into the broad comedy of the film.

Perfectly balanced as the film/music experience was, I couldn’t help thinking I’d also like the opportunity to give the Flat Earth Society my undivided attention sometime. Maybe Birmingham Jazz (this was a co-promotion with mac) can bring this superb group of musicians back.

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Vortex, London, Friday 1 October 2010

- review by Chris Parker

Two jazz writers' reactions to the music of Flemish big band Flat Earth Society should give some flavour of their determinedly non-traditional eccentricity: the Telegraph's Ivan Hewett says 'it's as if a night scene in a Raymond Chandler novel were suddenly invaded by a flock of seagulls'; John L. Walters (Guardian) describes them 'twisting rapidly from theatrical bombast to tenderness, collective improv, mad movie-chase music and back to swinging anthems'.

In a smallish venue such as the Vortex, their arrival on stage (fourteen men and one woman, Berlinde Deman on bass tuba) took on the air of a (benign, if somewhat sardonic) invasion, but they started almost conventionally with one of the aforementioned 'swinging anthems', entitled 'Girls and Buoys' (pun assumed from joky stage reference to maritime navigation), an immediately accessible heavy riff spiralling off into wooziness and the sort of helter-skelter stop-start playing more frequently found in circuses than in jazz clubs.

Inspiration for subsequent free-for-alls/forays into the hinterland between avant rock, free jazz and big-band music was as likely to come from the surrealist pioneer Marcel Duchamp and his celebrated urinal (the English pronunciation of which gave the band a great deal of harmless amusement) as from less high-flown sources such as drizzle, soup ingredients and Margaret Thatcher, but whatever they played, FES brought to it their unique mix of rumbustious irreverence, ironic portentousness and sheer exuberance, their leader Peter Vermeersch (reeds, vibes) playing a somewhat Zappa-esque role, imposing method on the band's madness and firing off some telling solo salvoes on clarinet in the process. Inspired and accomplished, off-the-wall music from an entirely original band.

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