01.2017, Guy Peters
Guy Peters on Linus
Musical improvisation is the art of perpetual transformation. That permanent shedding of ideas and sounds can assume various forms and is roughly divisible into two ‘schools’: while one aims for bold(er) statements with a loudly resounding energy and restless urgency, the other seeks refuge in more restrained and shadowy, but no less intriguing, elaborations.
Ruben Machtelinckx (guitar, banjo) and Thomas Jillings (reeds, synthesiser) are consummate representatives of the second approach. With or without guests. Concerts are akin to lessons in musical modelling, with contours that keep gaining in sharpness.
Remarkably, it has only taken Linus a few short years to carve out a niche for themselves in the world of Belgian jazz/improvisation. The duo shares an affinity with several of the projects linked to the granvat platform (both musicians are also part of Book of Air: vvolk), not to mention musicians such as Joachim Badenhorst, with whom Machtelinckx also plays in a quartet (Machtelinckx/Badenhorst/Jensson/Wouters). The latter have already released two albums.
Linus’ distinctive sound is born from the rare balance is struck between folk, jazz, minimalism, chamber music and free improvisation. It is a style less concerned with volume, strict compositions and finger snapping, and more akin to a poetic sound story with a mysterious and almost visual panache. Linus do not play ‘jazz’ as that term is generally understood, simply because the African- American roots of the genre have given way to a thoroughly European sound. From the very outset, the duo’s open mindset, idiosyncratic sound and improvisational skills have been shaped by their fascination with the Arctic North.
Their critically acclaimed recording, Onland (2014), comprises nine delicate and intimate compositions in which melancholic melodies are infused with a spine-tingling reciprocity between the musicians. It soon became apparent that Machtelinckx, who has long been under the spell of some of the outstanding performers from labels such as Hubro, Rune Grammofon and ECM, would push the music more emphatically in this direction. Linus + Skarbø / Leroux (2015) underscores the true strength and stability of the duo’s vision because their sound, despite being considerably expanded by the arrival of two guest players, remains unmistakably their own. Furthermore, it is striking how much care has been lavished on the artwork, which ties in seamlessly with the music. This is also becoming something of a tradition. Barely a year later, the third album appeared, Felt Like Old Folk, for which Machtelinckx and Jillings played with the Belgian Niels Van Heertum (euphonium) and the Norwegian Nils Økland (Hardanger fiddle), the latter a familiar figure from the labels that have long been precious to Machtelinckx. The result is a more open sound, with greater emphasis on improvisation and barbs.
Given carte blanche at the Brosella Festival, the duo took yet another step forward when they were joined, amongst others, by percussionist Ingar Zach. Linus’ music is constantly gaining in nuance and intricacy, and this in both their more repetitive compositions as well as their improvisational landscapes. Their skeletal compositions are enhanced with often minimal and individual ideas which, when taken together, yield a surprising abundance. The imagination runs riot.
Mono no aware (2017), the fourth album in as many years, is perhaps their best work to date. On this record, the melancholy and elegance for which they have been wrapped in a myriad of richer colours, all applied with defiant self-assurance and decisive intensity. It is wonderful to witness how the tentative music of the early days has evolved, and the way in which Machtelinckx and Jillings have embraced ensemble playing.