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Raf Vertessen Quartet: LOI (el NEGOCITO)

Review of the Belgian percussionist's debut album as a leader

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Cover of Raf Vertessen Quartet album LOI
Cover of Raf Vertessen Quartet album LOI

The dense vocabulary that Belgium-born, Brooklyn-based drummer, percussionist, and composer Raf Vertessen possesses is fit for a wise veteran. The catch is, he’s only 27. In just a short stint, Vertessen has quickly established himself as a force in New York City’s improvised music scene, counting avant-garde titans like Joe Morris, Joe McPhee, Ingrid Laubrock, and Ches Smith as mentors.

The influence of those luminaries—particularly Smith—resounds on LOI, Vertessen’s standout debut as a bandleader. But the loose-jointed Belgian has his own voice, which he employs with ever-shifting tempo changes and mathy fury that give the listener a case of whiplash. While Vertessen is perfectly adept at artful nuance, he’s constantly in your face throughout the nine tracks on LOI, thwacking and thumping his drum kit like a mad beat scientist.

However, Vertessen couldn’t pull this off alone. He’s assembled an all-star-level group to help bring his intricately woven pieces to life: tenor saxophonist Anna Webber, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and upright bassist Nick Dunston. They meld seamlessly into the fray, playing close-to-perfect complements to Vertessen’s knotty structures.

With Webber and O’Farrill’s bouncy, turbulent lines zigzagging over one another and Dunston providing the rhythmic foundation, Vertessen doesn’t hang back. Instead, he plays to his strengths with an electrifying array of salvos that progress from slow-building tension to explosive release and back again. That locked-in dynamic comes through on dizzying yet infectious tunes such as the title track, “#4,” and “FAKE 3:7.” A dominant presence both behind the kit and up front, Raf Vertessen has made quite the debut.