Bruno Vansina

Biography by

Flemish scene saxophonist whose own music ranges from Zappa-esque art rock to sublime creative jazz.
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Born in Belgium in 1975, saxophonist Bruno Vansina has flourished within the Flemish creative music community, finding diverse outlets for his music -- ranging from Gil Evans-inspired large ensemble jazz to skewed and even zany art rock -- as both bandleader and collaborator. A Frank Zappa fan in high school, Vansina began the serious pursuit of a career as a jazz saxophonist while a teenager, immersing himself in recordings by the titans of the instrument, from Lester Young to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, and Ornette Coleman. In the mid-'90s Vansina began conservatory studies, both at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where he met and began a longstanding collaborative relationship with drummer Teun Verbruggen, and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, Netherlands, where he was taught by tenor saxophonist/clarinetist John Ruocco. The alto saxophone would often become Vansina's instrument of choice in his recordings and performances over the years, although he also plays soprano and baritone as well as clarinet and flute.

In 2003 Vansina and Verbruggen co-founded the Rat (Rare and Treacherous) label, which released its first album that year: Trio Music by the threesome of Vansina, Verbruggen, and Iceland-born, Netherlands-based double bassist Gulli Gudmundsson (who, like Vansina, also studied at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, receiving a master's degree from there in 1999). Melding interpretations of classic jazz compositions with original material and free improvisations, the Vansina-Verbruggen-Gudmundsson Trio -- aka VVG -- became an ongoing proposition, with the double-disc In Orbit set released by Rat in 2005 and Tokio Quantize following in 2007; the latter two releases included guest appearances by Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes and Magic Malik on flute.

While Vansina was appearing with VVG on Rat Records, the saxophonist was tapped by bandleader/composer/clarinetist Peter Vermeersch for membership in the massive avant ensemble Flat Earth Society. Vansina first appeared on Psychoscout (Crammed Discs, 2006), and can also be heard on such subsequent FES releases as Answer Songs (Zonk, 2009), Cheer Me, Perverts! (Crammed Discs, 2009), 13 (Igloo, 2013), and the live collection Call Sheets, Riders & Chicken Mushroom: Live Recordings 2000-2012 (Igloo, 2014).

Before he would step out as a full-fledged leader of his own creative jazz ensemble, however, Vansina apparently had a bit of rather demented business to get out of the way: an album of Zappa-esque damaged art rock, jazz-rock, and sonic experimentalism entitled Nirvana Bonus and the Demons of Shame, issued by Rat in 2009. With Vansina leading his Demons of Shame band featuring Verbruggen, bassist Pierre Vervloesem, keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe, and guitarist Gil Mortio, the saxophonist not only demonstrated his able reed chops, but exercised his vocal cords as a warped crooner and shouter on such tracks as "What's Wrong with You" and "(I Don’t Know A) Place to Go."

The following year, Vansina formed the group that would become an important vehicle for his subsequent forays into "serious" creative jazz as a bandleader, composer, and saxophonist. Vansina had been playing in trio and quartet lineups around the Belgian scene, including his own dates at the Hopper Café in Antwerp, when he formally established the Bruno Vansina Quartet, again including Verbruggen and also featuring guitarist Bert Cools and bassist Nathan Wouters. Playing Vansina's spacious, atmospheric, and expressive jazz compositions, the group embarked on a short tour of Mexico in 2011 and in March 2012 entered Brooklyn, New York's System Two studio -- with Jos Machtel replacing Wouters on bass and with noted American vibraphonist Steve Nelson as a featured guest -- to record Stratocluster. Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Mike Marciano, the album was released by the W.E.R.F. label a month after the sessions had been completed.

With the addition of pianist Bart Van Caenegem to the fold in 2013, the saxophonist's band was transformed into the Bruno Vansina Quintet, which, with Nathan Wouters back on bass, returned to Mexico for three concert dates. In December, the band, having undergone more lineup changes with Christian Mendozza now on piano and Sean Faschiani on bass, appeared at Antwerp's Rataplan venue as the foundation of the newly christened Vansina Orchestra, with the five-piece supplemented by 11 horn players performing Vansina compositions newly arranged by trombonist Dree Peremans, leader of the Rebirth::Collective octet. The full ensemble -- now with bassist Stefan Lievestro in the core quintet along with Vansina, Verbruggen, Cools, and Mendozza, and including former Vansina teacher John Ruocco in the horn section -- recorded the Rataplan-premiered music with engineer Walter de Niel at Brussels' Studio Toots in January 2014. The resultant album of Gil Evans and Charles Mingus-influenced large-ensemble creative jazz, Morning Forest aka Nose Up Bottom Down, was released by Rat in June of that year.

In addition to the aforementioned, Vansina can be heard on such recordings as Undeletable (Off, 2014) by Simple, the eponymous Rebirth::Collective (SoulFactory, 2013), Sketches of Pain (Off, 2012) by Caca, The Nethack Dictionary (Sub Rosa, 2011) by Othin Spake, In a Little Provincial Town (September, 2011) and Band of Birds (September, 2008) by the Tuesday Night Orchestra, and Tráfico (2006, Crammed Discs) by Think of One.