Articles

TOFAKI, Germany – Interview with Peter Van Huffel on the topic of originality

September 2014 – Interview by Tobias Fischer

“These days, originality appears to be the main gauge for artistic success: No insult could be worse than being made out a copycat or ripp-off, no praise higher than having one’s work being commended as ‘unique’, ‘personal’ or ‘inventive’. And yet, as much as it’s in demand, originality is a highly problematic term. For one, entirely original music is an impossibility, since every composition already builds on what came before it in some form or the other. Also, originality as a main priority does not by default result in satisfying results. Even more critically, our notion of originality is questioned by the advances of the information age: The more people are making and releasing music, the smaller the potential for each of them to create something truly original, after all. What happens when everything has been done – every sound sculpted, every beat programmed, every chord played and every arrangement tried? We spoke to a wide selection of artists from all corners of the musical spectrum to find out more about their take on originality, how they see it changing and what it means in their work.

To Canadian improviser and saxophonist Peter van Huffel, globalism and cheaper modes of transportation have been a godsend for originality – allowing for the dissemination of new ideas, the forming of new connections and a greater potential for learning.…”

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Plärrer – Nuremberg – Das Stadt Magazin (Article by Reinhold Horn) October 2012 Issue

Musik – So viel Jazz! – Jazz mit Esprit & Dynamik: Gorilla Mask

“Da ist einmal das Jazz in Richtung harten Rock dehnende Trio Gorilla Mask um den polyglotten kanadischen Saxophonisten Peter Van Huffel. Der bereichert seit fünf Jahren die Berliner Jazzszene – und hat nun das erste Album seines Trios unter dem Titel “Howl!” (auf dem Label “Between the Lines”) veröffentlicht…

Das ebenso kraftvolle wie vor Ideen nur so berstende Trio Gorilla Mask aus der schier unerschöpflichen, immer kreativen Jazzszene Berlins gehört zu den spannendsten Bands, die der Avantgarde-Jazzszene seit langem entwachsen sind. Der eminent termperamentvolle Saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, der Kopf von Gorilla Mask, ist ein trickreicher Könner auf seinem Instrument und improvisiert mit Verve und Esprit: So wild und phantasiereich wie Gorilla Mask hat Jazz lange nicht mehr geklungen. Van Huffels kongeniale Mitmusiker, Bassist Roland Fidezius und Schlagzeuger Rudi Fischerlehner, kombinieren wie einst Jack Bruce und Ginger Baker bei “Cream” Power und Standfestigkeit einer Rock-Rhythm-Sektion mit einer verückten Jazzenergie, die an die besten harten Bands seit John Zorns “Naked City” denken lässt.”


Plaerrer – Nuremberg – Das Stadt Magazin (Article by Reinhold Horn) January 2011 Issue

Musik – So viel Jazz! – Peter Van Huffel

Weltweit gehört der junge kanadische Altsaxophonist Peter Van Huffel derzeit zu den begabtesten Jazzmusikern, Bandleadern und Komponisten. Und das nicht erst seit seiner neuesten, immens spannenden, siebten CD “Like the Rusted Key” (erschienen auf dem immer wichtiger werdenden spanischen Label “Fresh Sound” des katalanischen Jayyenthusiasten Jordi Pujol). Peter Van Huffel ist in jeder Hinsichtsmart genug, um sich ganz an die Spitze zu spielen. Denn er ist erstens von großer explorativer Neugier, zweitens von schneller Aufassungsgabe, drittens selbstverständlich polzglott und viertens eminent anpassungsfähig an die verschiedensten Kulturen, Szenen und nationalen Kontexte.

Seit 2008 nun lebt er in Berlin, zusammen mit seiner belgischen Frau, der Sängerin und Komponistin Sophie Tassignon – nach langen Jahren in New York und Toronto. Und knüpft scheinbar mühelos Freundschaften und strartegische Partnerschaften mit einigen der besten Musiker der German Hauptstadt, wie dem Schweizer Schlagzeuger Samuel Rohrer, “So Weiss”-Bassist Roland Fidezius und vielen anderen mehr. Sein jungstes Quartett-Album “Like The Rusted Key” ist ein großer Wurf. Deshalb habe ich Peter Van Huffel gebeten, über “Melancholic“, die Schlüsselkomposition dieses Albums, Auskunft zu geben: ein Album mit ureigener Klanpoesie, die zwischen den Extremen von Ruhe und explosiver, unruhig-roher Kraft ihre dionysische Balance findet.

“Melancholic ist warhrscheinlich das einzigartigste Stück auf dem neuen Album, allerdings ist es gleichzeitig für viele Hörer auch das am schwersten zu deutende”, erklärt Van Huffel. Und fährt fort: ” Es besteht im Prinzip aus einer Reihung von speziellen Akkorden, die ich in vielen Stunden Arbeit eronnen habe. Für mich als Komponist bestand die Herausforderung bei diesem Stück darin, genau zu hören, wie ein Akkord sich zum näschten bewegt, um ganz sicher zu sein, dass ein enger innerer Zusammenhang zwischen beiden gegeben war. Diese Komposition verdankt viel meinen Lieblingsmusikern und Komponisten – und das sind Morton Feldman und John Cage, die beide die Fähigkeit haben, den Raum in ihren Kompositionen zu manipulieren. … Ich wollte zumindest einige ihre Techniken und Tugenden in den Sound meiner eigenen Band einverseiben. Melancholic mit seinen fast 10 Minuten Dauer muss als ruhiges Zwischenspiel verstanden werden. Ein Interludium, das dem Hörer ermöglicht, seine Gedanken zu ordnen, damit ihm ein tieferes Verständnis für meine Musik und die das ganze Album durch herrschende Stimmung zu gewinnen.”


Jazz à Berlin – Une première ce dimanche au Finnlandzentrum (by Jean-Marc Toussaint, December 3, 2010)

“Peter Van Huffel et Sophie Tassignon donnent de leurs nouvelles : le nouveau projet est appelé “New Quartet” et se produira en première au Finnlandzentrum du quartier de Kreuzberg – Schleiermacherstr. 24a. Les “nouveaux” partenaires sont Julie Sassoon et Miles Perkin. Sans conteste, c’est la musicalité, le lyrisme et l’intensité qui sont choisies. Le cadre du jazz sera lui aussi dépassé, outrepassé, pas de doute là-dessus, non plus. Ceux qui ne connaissent pas l’univers de Van Huffel et de Tassignon devront le découvrir et ceux qui le connaissent ne devraient pas être au bout de leurs surprises… Quant à ceux qui voudraient plus de représentantes féminines dans le monde des musiciens, ce groupe est pour eux. A dimanche !”


Jazz Dimensions- Peter Van Huffel “Essentially Free”
(Interview by Carina Prange, May 2010)

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“After several years in New York the Canadian saxophonist Peter van Huffel meanwhile has centered his life in Berlin. The German capital is his new musical base for touring, for example together with his Swiss-Canadian-American quartet (Jesse Stacken, Miles Perkin and Samuel Rohrer).”


Jazz à Berlin – Les “jeunes pousses” dans les blogs jazz francophones : Peter Van Huffel

(by Jean-Marc Toussaint, Dec. 20, 2009)

Peter Van Huffel est né et a grandi au Canada à Kingston entre Toronto et Montréal et fera ses “classes” à la Manhattan School of Music de New-York, d’où il sortira avec diplôme en poche et des projets plein la tête. Pendant 5 ans, il s’intégra à la scène avant-garde newyorkaise et participa au groupe Animal Forum avec le suisse Samuel Blaser et puis fonda un quintette sous son nom. Le partenaire de (presque) toujours, c’est Jesse Stacken, il rencontre Peter Van Huffel à New-York et voyage régulièrement depuis vers l’Europe pour le rejoindre dans ses tournées. C’est un des pianistes qui laisse de la place et rythme ses apparitions par de longues respirations. Ayant décidément de bonnes relations avec la Suisse, Peter Van Huffel intègrera dans son quartette le batteur Samuel Rohrer, à mettre en relation avec Malcolm Braff. Le citoyen canadien Miles Perkin complète l’ensemble. Le contrebassiste virtuose excelle dans la création de tensions et de petits univers, son jeu très créatif le distingue et en fait un des bassistes les plus demandés à Berlin.

La musique de Peter Van Huffel est très descriptive, explore des mélodies et aussi des rythmes… L’influence d’autres grands musiciens est assumée et sublimée. Les couleurs et l’émotion se mêlent pour au final livrer un résultat très personnel sans intention de plaire mais de partager. L’énergie positive qui s’en dégage est très revigorante… Je souhaite longue vie à la musique et à son inspiration.

Peter Van Huffel a d’autres projets hautement intéressants, comme celui qu’il suit avec la chanteuse belge atypique Sophie Tassignon, avec qui il enregistra dans un quartette nommé “Hufflignon” publié chez Clean Feed. L’équipe d’ “Hufflignon” sera ce printemps en studio à New-York pour un nouveau CD… avec des invités surprises.

Quant au quartette de Peter Van Huffel, il sera en tournée l’an prochain, en Allemagne et en Belgique en Février, sera en Espagne en avril (ben voyons), la tournée canadienne est pour juillet, quant au passage en France, il aura lieu début octobre 2010. A Berlin, ils seront le 19 février au Schlot.


Jazz à Berlin- Peter Van Huffel, en toute liberté
(by Jean-Marc Toussaint, July 3, 2009)

Le saxophoniste alto Peter Van Huffel est canadien et installé à Berlin, serait-il un peu citoyen du monde ? Les six années passées à New-York City ne sont pas restées inaperçues, les clubs tels que le 55 bar n’ont pas raté l’occasion de le programmer. L’artiste travaille beaucoup, c’est sûr, le résultat ? Un son exceptionnel, un langage achevé, une technique époustouflante au service de fantastiques paysages complexes, dont les tensions ne sont pas absentes. Son quintette du premier enregistrement “Sylvester Battlefield” est volontiers dans une improvisation débridée, contrastant avec des parties plus structurées et des mélodies travaillées. Des rythmes clivés rappellent sur certains morceaux le travail de Steve Coleman (Braxton et Brötzmann ne sont pas loin non plus).
L’actuel quartette de Peter Van Huffel (Miles Perkin – contrebasse, Samuel Rohrer – batterie et aussi le pianiste Jesse Stacken) confirme son talent de compositeur, ils ont eu le temps de faire connaissance. Ils seront à nouveau en studio ce mois-ci pour enregistrer les nouvelles productions. Cette formation sera en concert deux fois à Berlin, juste avant les séances : le 14 juillet au B-Flat et le 16 juillet au Schlot. Il faudra saisir cette opportunité d’écouter l’œuvre prometteuse de cet artiste méconnu. Voici un article en anglais dans all about Jazz au sujet du CD “Sylvester Battlefield” puis une biographie, dithyrambique comme il se doit, au sujet de Peter Van Huffel.

A noter, parmi les projets de Peter Van Huffel, celui avec la chanteuse Sophie Tassignon astucieusement nommé “Hufflignon”… Celui-là aussi a attiré mon attention et j’aurai l’occasion d’en reparler.


Ottawa Citizen – April 11th, 2005 (by Peter Hum)

To hear some jazz musicians talk, New York is a grueling, competitive place where only the most swinging survive. Even the renowned tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, in this month’s downbeat magazine, says that he moved from Berkley, California to New York “to get my ass kicked, to be in the thick of it, to be constantly inspired and terrified and intimidated.”

On the other hand, Canadian saxophonist Peter Van Huffel sounds like he is having a much less traumatizing time in New York. After two and a half years there, the 26-year-old Kingstonian gushes about the camaraderie and support giving wings to his forward-thinking jazz. “Whether they’re your peers, or people that you used to idolize when you listened to them on recordings, everybody’s really into just helping each other out,” he says. “Everybody wants to see each other succeed.”

There are some dog-eat-dog jazzmen, but Van Huffel avoids them. “I don’t really go out to those late-night jam sessions,” he says. “Those kinds of environments or crowds can be a little more cutthroat.”

Instead, Van Huffel runs with like-minded people “who are very focused on original projects, contemporary progressive compositions,” he says. Several times a wekek, he meets with other young musicians to run through each other’s music. He is in several groups, and they play at some of New York’s best small jazz clubs – 55 Bar, Cornelia Street Café – and even the old punk-rock haunt CBGBs. Tomorrow, Van Huffel’s New York quintet plays at the Bayou on Bank Street, as part of a weeklong Ontario tour. As well, New York’s thirtysomething star saxophonists – players such as Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, Dave Binney and Tony Malaby – provide mentoring and moral support for the up-and-comers, Van Huffel says.

“They’re all willing to play with us all the time. They come out to see our shows. It’s a really nice environment that way,” he says. Potter, the It guy of jazz saxophone these days after stints with bosses such as Dave Holland, Dave Douglas and Steely Dan, even played on Van Huffel’s Manhattan School of Music recital last year. “He’s really supportive. When I asked him to do my recital, he was in town that night and really into playing,” Van Huffel says.

In just over a decade, Van Huffel has gone from being a jazz neophyte to sharing the stage – and holding his own – with Potter. When he was in Grade 6, the first horn that he played was a clarinet. But a year later, he was so drawn to the alto saxophone that he convinced his parents to buy him one and he began teaching himself to play it.

“After a few months, I wnet about finding myself a saxophone teacher,” he continues, “which kind of shocked my mother when she got a call from some guy saying her son had called, looking for sax lessons. I was about 13 at the time.”

He began listening to the meat-and-potatoes jazz of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s – Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Stan Getz, and, most of all, the bebop revolutions of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker.

“I listened to Charlie Parker non-stop for, like, two years,” Van Huffel says. He absorbed the essential lessons of Parker, working through a book of his transcribed solos and playing along with his recordings.

Before he graduated from high school, he was also driving once a month to Montreal to take lessons from saxophonist Janis Steprans, a jazz instructor at McGill University.

But while he enjoyed the classics of the jazz canon, Van Huffel was drawn to more contemporary sounds. By the time he attended Humber College in 1997, he was investigating more open or angular music by musicians such as Kenny Wheeler and Steve Coleman. “I was stretched more and more in that direction, trying to check out newer sounds, what people are doing with music that’s really changing it from where it was 20, 30, 40 years ago,” he says. Van Huffel is on that course now in New York, after graduating first from Humber and then last year from the Manhattan with a Master’s Degree. He has also twice attended the famed Banff International Jazz Workshop, where he studied with musical heavy-weights including pianist Kenny Werner, trumpeter Douglas, and Potter.

The music Van Huffel plays with his quintet has one foot in the modern jazz mainstream and the other in the avant-garde. “Whether we’re playing really free or we’re playing something with a lot of structure, we can be loose all the time and stick to the music,” he says. “We’ve allowed ourselves to be free with the structured tunes as well. It creates a lot of spontaneity all the time. The music’s different every night.”

Sometimes, New York can seem a lot like Canada to Van Huffel. He shares an apartment north of Harlem with Ottawa saxophonist Mike Webster and another Canadian. His circle includes singer Yoon Choi from Toronto, drummer Greg Ritchie from Montreal and bassist Fraser Hollins and trombonist Mike Fahie from Ottawa. “There’s a large Canadian community, definitely,” he says.

But for now he would rather be an ex-pat than be repatriated, having applied for an artist’s visa that would allow him to add three more years to his U.S. stay. “Musically, things are going in the direction I want them to. Financially, things are starting to sort themselves out. I can’t really think of anywhere else I’d want to be right now.


Toronto Star – April 7th, 2005 (by Geoff Chapmann)

Two splendid alto sax players, one in his late 70s, the other just getting established in his career, are in action over the next week. Both are well worth hearing.

The veteran is Lee Konitz, the American who rose to prominence at the same time as legend Charlie Parker, but didn’t sound like him at all. He’s at Glenn Gould Studio tonight with Toronto stars Steve Wallace on bass and Terry Clarke on drums.

The relative newcomer is Canadian Peter Van Huffel, who’s doing very nicely in New York. He’s bringing his New York band to The Rex on Wednesday.

The dry-toned Konitz, a rare visitor to this city although he worked one recent Downtown Jazz Festival, started winning attention in the 1940s playing with Claude Thornhill’s orchestra and then recording with innovative pianist Lennie Tristano and the groundbreaking Miles Davis nonet on Birth Of The Cool. His albums with tenor Warne Marsh became collectors’ items, he worked with Stan Kenton and for the past four decades he’s primarily been a leader, known for his complex, introverted free jazz and cool bop. His discography is enormous, and you’ll hear that his inventive power and restless imagination are in no way diminished.

Van Huffel, originally from Kingston, studied in Ottawa and Montreal before coming to Toronto in 1997 for the Humber College jazz program, from which he graduated in jazz performance. For the past 2 1/2 years he’s been in New York, where he’s a bandleader with a growing reputation. His Toronto band — with tenor Chuck McLelland, keyboardist Greg de Denus, bass Brandi Disterheft and drummer Joe Sorbara — made its debut indie recording, Mind Over Matter, with eight Van Huffel originals mainly on the “out” side, and is well worth obtaining. Particularly stirring tunes are “Free Spirit,” “Dialing In” and “Hexed” and there’ll be CDs for sale at his gigs.

It’s Van Huffel’s New York band that will play at The Rex on Wednesday during its first Canadian tour and, later next week, at Array Music Studio. This group comprises guitarist Scott DuBois, pianist Jesse Stacken, drummer Jeff Davis and another Canadian expat, Michael Bates, who leads the band Outside Sources, on bass.

Musician / Composer