field report no.041116

LOCATION: Le Poisson Rouge NY.NY
SUBJECT: Jozef van Wissem

I can't think of a better name for a goth-inflected, leather jacket clad and long-haired medieval lute player than Jozef van Wissem. I fervently hope it's his real name, not some nom-de-rock.

While he was playing an absolutely hypnotic set, I found myself thinking of the great bluesmen, like John Lee Hooker or Lightnin' Hopkins. I've often heard it said (and found it true) that their best work is solo. They're playing is too flexible: tempos and time signatures shift for emphasis (or petty whims) and a band is either too restraining or just can't keep up.

It's not that Jozef van Wissem's playing anything like the blues—he deals more in a meditative minimalism. I found his simple, circular phrases captivating; the entire room was rapt. He capturedand retained our interest by maintaining a fluid sense of time, much like those classic blues players. By drawing out or speeding up a line, or shifting emphasis, he makes playing the same progression feel like trying to step in the same river twice. It gives his music a sense of organic breath.

Wissem is not a showy or virtuosic player. He dwells deeply in simple phrases, and lets them resonate to their fullest. The lute he plays (with more strings than I could count from a distance) deals in mictrotones, the spaces in-between the codified, western 12-tone scale. It lends his music an exotic air (along with a touch of olde-English folk and fairie tunes). 

The Holy Suns opened. I started out enjoying it, but it wore thin pretty quickly. They sound as if Crazy Horse and Black Sabbath had a love child, but they're in desperate need of a Neil Young or Ozzy Osbourne—a charismatic counterweight to their stomping riffs and searing solos.

NOTES: Jozef Van Wissem; Holy Sons