The music of Canadian saxophonist Peter Van Huffel does not ask to be loved at a first sight. On the contrary, the approach with the many-sided look typical of his compositions initially tends to throw the listener in a state of suspicion about the directions that might be investigated and, in due course, taken by its creator. But after a few listens the precise scope of Van Huffel’s creativity becomes evident, each of the ingredients meant to be there for a reason. The sum of these motivations is what attributes a specific individuality to the final outcome: Like The Rusted Key – recorded in the summer of 2009 at Cologne’s Loft Studios – appears as an interesting demonstration of the axiom according to which revolutions are not always necessary to make a statement worthy of consideration in nowadays’ jazz.
As previously hinted, the tracks span across an ample gamut of moods and intentions. Besides the leader’s alto sax – a voice that appears elegantly tantalizing more than impulsively edgy – the main presence is that of Jesse Stacken, whose pianism is acutely complementary to Van Huffel’s thematic sketches and, just occasionally, slightly biting improvisations. The mix of liquidness and synchronized dissection of otherwise reasonably regular materials – not infrequently tending to resemble certain pages of the ECM book, think Rainer Brüninghaus – is the factor that determines a rise in our level of interest. Elegiac paragraphs and nervous harmonic transactions are both faces of the same coin. Bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Samuel Rohrer seem to strengthen a kinship within the quartet, figuring as an accurate rhythm section when the moment is right but also actively contributing to the contrapuntal grain via expert splashing of percussive hues and lenitive arco passages that depict an unsuspected nonconforming romanticism.
Amidst all of this, the track that stands out is “Melancholic”: caressing silence in between rarefied single chords left to resonate for a while, giving time to the musicians to prepare their next move, allowing us to concentrate without a necessity of anticipating what will follow. The piece is emblematic of the quartet’s responsiveness, also visible in erratic episodes such as the dissonantly energetic “Enghavevej”. Ultimately, this ability in jumping queues, avoiding strict definitions and immediately defining the object of a particular tune is the winning card of this unpretentiously intelligent CD.