The common theme running through the work of saxophonist and flutist Manuel Hermia is the search for a well-founded approach between cultures and styles, both from a musical and philosophical point of view. During the River Jazz Festival, he illustrates it by pulling off a fabulous hat-trick. On the closing night, he will indeed give three concerts in three different venues with three different bands.
Who is… Manuel Hermia?
Manuel Hermia is a perfect example of the multi-genre musician who also acts as a bridge builder. He not only plays the soprano, alto and tenor saxophone but also the flute and the bansuri (Indian transverse flute). Moreover, his interests and activities range from world music and (free) jazz to rock and a more classical jazz approach. He composed music for both dance and circus performances. And in addition, the man is a captivating photographer whose pictures time after time reflect a particular world view. All these aspects are highlighted by far and large in his two double CD recordings ‘Le Murmure de l’Orient vol. I & II’ (2005, 2012 - Igloo) which are artfully finished, down to the smallest details with pictures and corresponding texts.
In jazz circles, he is also known as a strong advocate of musician rights. Before the upcoming national elections in 2014, he even revisits the Brabançonne, Belgium’s national hymn and proposes a colourful patchwork version of it with the help of 30 like-minded colleagues.
New work by the Manuel Hermia Quartet, Slang and by the French-Belgian Hermia/Ceccaldi/Darrifourcq Trio (the CD première will take place during the River Jazz Festival) will be released in the coming months. So, it is hardly surprising he was asked to be the closing item of the River Jazz Festival with no fewer than three concerts on the very same night.
... your favourite place in Brussels?
I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that it is Parc Duden and the adjoining Parc de Forest. I live right between the two and I often go there for a walk or jogging. And even though I am an outright city-dweller, at the same time, I enjoy being close to green spaces. It adds an extra dimension to city life. For me, it’s a place where I can recharge my batteries; I would not go as far though as to describe it as a direct source of inspiration. As a composer I have no fixed work schedule or I do not observe a specific discipline. I find my inspiration for new music in the strangest places at the strangest times. That is also the reason why I always have my iPhone at hand. Once a year I play back all the stuff I have saved and I classify usable ideas in group folders. I then use the material as a basis for further work and I delete everything which in my view seems to be worthless.
… your fondest memory of a concert in the three concert halls where you will perform on 24 January?
At Marni, I saw Jean-Paul Estiévenart’s trio last year. That was for me one of the best concerts ever! With drummer Antoine Pierre and bass player Sam Gerstmans, he managed to uphold the jazz tradition whilst taking an awful lot of liberties. To achieve this amazing feat in one and the same repertoire, you need to be a brilliant musician. This interaction and this musicality were of the highest calibre... which goes to show that you do not need to travel all the way to New York to attend world-class performances.
At Espace Senghor, my most vivid memory is the concert by Majid Bekkas and his Makenba project with Minino Garay and Louis Sclavis. Three musicians which just like me are open to a variety of influences and make the most of it. Espace Senghor reels in an outstanding programme in this respect.
At Jazzstation, the annual jam session of Les Lundis d’Hortense which marks the opening of the season is always a brilliantly festive event. You get the opportunity to share the stage with numerous fellow musicians, and in the most uncommon combos.
… the last CD or album you bought for yourself?
Here I cannot give you a straight answer. I am a huge CD guy and I buy loads. However, for several reasons, I took a paid subscription to Spotify two months ago. I have namely been on the board of SABAM for a year now. We often talk about Spotify and in order to be able to take part in these discussions, I wanted to know what it is all about and how it works. There are still quite some shady areas as far as copyrights are concerned.
Also, Spotify is a new way to listen to music. I belong to a generation which considers an album as a whole. It seems however that it is a completely outdated notion. Nowadays, people increasingly tend to select the songs they want to listen to. In the rock and pop world, it has become a commonplace for artists to release a new song or album every few months to keep on making the headlines. As a jazz musician, you record an album and you try to tour with it for the next two years. It is a genuine revolution.
Another reason why I recently subscribed to Spotify is that I teach at the conservatory. Students often show up with or talk about a wide array of musicians or songs: it is an impossible task for me to know everything about everything. Then, Spotify comes in handy, far more than YouTube. As a result, I have not bought a single CD over the past two months. What I do now is listen to a selection of songs per artist. At the moment, I fall hook, line and sinker for Chris Porter. The way in which this guy soaks up the work of Coltrane, Rollins and Becker to create his own personal sound, is absolutely fabulous. Jazz keeps evolving and changing and it is therefore more and more difficult to integrate everything in your own patterns, something Potter however achieves brilliantly. Joshua Redman is also a musician of that calibre.
… your favourite quote of the moment?
I have hated the word ‘discipline’ my whole life. For me, it has always been synonymous with the army and similar structures. However, Henry Miller once wrote that “the purpose of discipline is to promote freedom”. It is particularly true in jazz. It takes a lot of self-discipline to keep on practising day in day out in order to, once you are on stage, have the necessary tools to play as freely as possible. The word ‘discipline’ hence enjoys a positive connotation because it is all about you yourself. There is no one else to give you a rap on the knuckles.
I would also like to add the Chinese Tao principle, mainly outlined in a collection of eighty small poems with a profound philosophical background. For instance: “Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her”.