Pierre VervloesemView in iTunes
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Guitarist Pierre Vervloesem has been described as "Belgium's Frank Zappa," although his inimitable talents -- he is a fine electric bassist and also noted for his skills in engineering, mixing, and/or mastering his own recordings and those of his colleagues -- place him in his own league. Vervloesem's zany song titles and animated live stage presence contrast with the serious artistry of his often economical playing style, as he finds precisely the right notes, tones, and effects that fit perfectly into complex, multi-layered arrangements -- all the more astounding given that he doesn't read music. During the 1990s, Vervloesem was a manic presence in an already manic band, composer/arranger/clarinetist Peter Vermeersch's X-Legged Sally, which blasted through a high-energy blend of influences, combining elements of Zappa, the New York downtown scene, and Belgian avant-prog music as practiced by groups like Univers Zero and Present (although largely minus the dark and ominous moods). Vervloesem appeared on all of X-Legged Sally's recordings, including Slow-Up (1991), Killed by Charity (1994), Eggs and Ashes (1995), The Land of the Giant Dwarfs and the live swan song Fired (both 1996), and the joint XLS/Smith Quartet album Bereft of a Blissful Union (1997). Alongside Vermeersch, Vervloesem also co-produced Worst Case Scenario, the 1994 debut album by Antwerp-based indie experimentalist outfit dEUS. After X-Legged Sally broke up, Vervloesem continued to perform, this time on bass, in Vermeersch's next ensemble, the more pop-oriented A Group, which released two CDs, the oddly sequenced Volume 1 (recorded in 1997) and Volume 3 (2000), the latter of which included the first recorded appearance of Vermeersch's avant big band, the Flat Earth Society. Vervloesem would maintain involvement with FES during the 2000s and beyond, engineering and mixing such albums as Trap (2002) and The Armstrong Mutations (2003) and then joining the ensemble as guitarist for such albums as Cheer Me, Perverts! (2009) and 13 (2013). Vervloesem began stepping out with his own projects in the mid-'90s, revealing himself to be a technically proficient yet sometimes tongue-in-cheek musician with feet in both the avant-prog and heavy metal-influenced guitar shredder camps, although minus the grandstanding overkill of the latter. His solo outings began in 1994 with Home Made and continued with 1996's Fiasco and 1999's Chef-d'Oeuvre. During the first half of the 21st century, Vervloesem issued Plays John Barry and Grosso Modo in 2002 and Rude in 2005. Fi as co, Grosso Modo, and Rude were all issued by the Belgium-based Carbon 7 label. Vervloesem's next solo outing arrived in 2008, and was a definite change of pace: the first edition of the "P.V. Presents" series on Belgium's Off label, Not Even Close found the guitarist abandoning his usual axe techniques in favor of "knob twiddling" to produce quirky synth-based tracks reminiscent of Zappa's Synclavier experiments. Off's P.V. Presents series (which, it should be noted, is directed by Vervloesem and sometimes includes music he is interested in but does not actually play on) continued in 2009 with Unchained Melodies by the avant improvising power trio Kings of Belgium, featuring guitarist Gil Mortio and drummer Al Battor with Vervloesem on bass. The following year saw four P.V. Presents releases -- three of which included Vervloesem as a player -- made available individually or in a box set titled The CK Theory. Notable among these CDs was Sketches of Pain by the octet Caca, a reboot of the X-Legged Sally concept with a sound uncannily similar to XLS' 1991 debut, Slow-Up. Sketches of Pain featured Vervloesem back on guitar and Mortio on bass, with other bandmates including keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe (a Belgian avant-prog and creative jazz mainstay heard with such groups as XLS, FES, Univers Zero, Vervloesem's Grosso Modo, and Vandenberghe's own avant jazz piano trio, Too Noisy Fish), drummer Teun Verbruggen (FES, Too Noisy Fish, Bureau of Atomic Tourism), and four saxophonists: Benjamin Boutreur (alto) and Bruno Vansina (baritone), both from FES; Roeland Van Hoorne (tenor); and Nicolas Roseeuw (bass), an important contributor to the rather like-minded project Fukkeduk (produced by Nick Didkovsky) way back in the mid-'90s. Also included among the CK Theory discs were SSSHHHTTTT by the Claude Zac Ensemble (a three-guitar/bass/drums instrumental avant rock outing with Vervloesem as guest), Grotesque by Codswallop (an avant pop/rock release featuring Bowie-esque crooner Richard Belgium; three heavy pop/rockers on keyboards, guitar, and drums; and Vervloesem on bass, guitar, and vocals), and John Koenig (a previously unreleased electronic soundtrack, composed in 1999, with Koenig handling synthesizer and drum programming and with no presence of Vervloesem whatsoever). In 2011 the Kings of Belgium returned with their sophomore outing, Très Fort, which replaced Battor with the decidedly un-Belgian Mats/Morgan Band drummer Morgan Ågren from Sweden (and the disc was also recorded in Sweden, so neither Belgian royalty nor territory was exclusively involved). Another Vervloesem solo album, Silence Science, an ambient recording of overdubbed guitar and bass, arrived as the next release in the P.V. Presents series in 2013, followed by 2014's Undeletable, an electric avant jazz-rock outing by Simple, a new quartet featuring Vervloesem on bass, Vansina on sax, Joris Caluwaerts on keyboards, and Didier Fontaine on drums. The various diverse P.V. Presents outings -- described as "a series of good music, whatever that means!" -- have demonstrated that Vervloesem's creativity extends well beyond the guitar alone, although he probably remains best known for extending the boundaries of the electric six-string. His CDs as both leader and bandmember are worth the effort to locate for fans of electric guitarists such as Zappa, Didkovsky, Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, David Torn, Adrian Belew, Nels Cline, Bernard Falaise, Corrie van Binsbergen, Wally Scharold, and Kazuhisa Uchihashi. ~ Dave Lynch