Even without using words, Julien Tassin is a storyteller. He’s the kind of musician who obviously spent some time acquiring technique and skills on the guitar, but above all values the expressive power and potential of music. His music is not just mood music, but something that transports the listener. Not by technical acrobatics, but by performing compositions that create their own little universes. It’s obvious he has soaked up a wide variety of influences - as you can hear strands of blues, soul, rock and roots music in his cinematic jazz -, but it all comes together in one rich identity.
It’s also obvious that Tassin intends to create a steadily expanding discography. His debut as a leader - Sweet Tension - arrived in the fall of 2018 on Igloo Records. At the end of 2019, he already returned with the solo release Momentum (Hypnote). Earlier this year, Tassin recorded and released own ‘lockdown album’ (Pictures From Home) and now, he once again guides you into the winter season with a new trio album. One that mainly resides in dreamy, nocturnal landscapes, with stories like thumbed polaroids that retain something intangible. Moondancer is a statement by a musician who makes sure that every note counts.
To release something that feels deeply personal but that can also take on a more universal appeal, you obviously need some trustworthy allies. Tassin found them a few years ago. The rhythm section of Nicolas Thys and Dré Pallemaerts is undoubtedly one of the strongest around. Why? Because these veterans know what the music needs while maintaining their own identity in each circumstance.
Both Thys (see also: TaxiWars, Kris Defoort, Bill Carrothers, Nicolas Kummert,...) and Pallemaerts (well, he played with just about everyone, from Toots and Melanie De Biasio to Philip Catherine and Ben Sluijs) are key players in the Belgian jazz scene, exactly because they understand that jazz is a truly collective undertaking. Hearing these masters play with nuance and control, reminds you that it’s not only important to understand what the music can get, but even more what it actually needs. Like Tassin, they are painters, applying colour and texture with a poetic flair.
One thing that immediately strikes you is the restraint with which these musicians play. There’s no impatient urge to impress, no need to waste energy. Instead, Tassin, Thys and Pallemaerts impress with an organic flow that leaves a lot of space. Not just between the notes and ideas, but also for the listener to absorb, so he/she can get lost in some imaginary films. From “Ouverture” onwards, you’re part of a suggestive trip, with twangy guitar sounds bonding with sizzling cymbals and warmly resonating bass strings.
Moondancer impresses with coherence and thoughtfulness, and while it can be quite melancholic and wistful, it manages to keep its playfulness and tension intact. You’ll find it in a track like “Blackout”, that starts off with a lyrical intro, but then moves on with a strutting pulse. Or check out the album closer “The Night Is Young”, with its balance of textural ideas and a careful build-up with an almost feverish intensity. The sparseness of the country-esque “Fairy Tale & Lady Blue” shows you a delicate merger of vivid colours and elasticity, performed with striking ease.
Most of all, however, this album performs a dance that’s full of subtle shades. It’s to be found in Pallemaerts’ masterful colouring in “Slow Motion”, the way Thys sets the atmosphere in “Rhodos”, in Tassin’s brush strokes in the loving portrait of “La Nonna”, and the sense of longing and nostalgia that permeate the title track. And so it happens that Tassin’s strongest statement yet is one that lets the music speak for itself, and it works like a charm.