Born in 1975, Teun Verbruggen has emerged as one of the most intriguing drummers on Belgium's avant jazz and creative improvisation scene, looking far beyond his country's borders for collaborators. Verbruggen graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels in 1999, as did Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila, and the drummer soon joined Tuomarila's quartet, which won first prize at Belgium's international Jazz Hoeilaert competition that year. Making one of his first recorded appearances on the Alexi Tuomarila Quartet's 2001 debut album Voices of Pohjola, Verbruggen would go on to record with Tuomarila on subsequent dates including 2003's 02 and 2008's Runo X.
While Verbruggen would find sideman/collaborator roles with pianists to be a fruitful area of exploration in his music career, one of his longest-running band memberships began when he joined Peter Vermeersch's experimental large ensemble Flat Earth Society shortly before FES recorded their 2002 Louis Armstrong project The Armstrong Mutations. Verbruggen continued performing and recording with Vermeersch and company on such subsequent FES albums as Psychoscout (2006), Answer Songs and Cheer Me, Perverts! (both 2009), and 13 (2013).
While occupying the drum chair of the FES big band, Verbruggen also performed and recorded in more intimate jazz settings, gaining particular notice for his membership in Belgian pianist Jef Neve's trio. He first appeared on the trio's Blue Saga album in 2003, and continued his work with Neve on such releases as It's Gone (2004), Nobody Is Illegal (2006), Soul in a Picture (2008), Imaginary Road (2010), and Sons of the New World (2012). The drummer also collaborated with FES members in smaller groupings; he formed the experimental electronic duo P.V.T.V. with guitar/mixing/mastering phenom Pierre Vervloesem, appearing on the 2007 album Wing-Chester released by Vervloesem's Off Records label, and also joined Vervloesem's Caca octet (a band with remarkable similarity to FES antecedent X-Legged Sally), which issued the album Sketches of Pain on Off Records in 2012. And with FES keyboardist/composer Peter Vandenberghe and bassist Kristof Roseeuw, Verbruggen formed the rather warped piano trio Too Noisy Fish, whose premiere recording, Fast Easy Sick (with mixing and mastering by Vervloesem), arrived in 2011; a sophomore Too Noisy Fish album, entitled Fight Eat Sleep, was scheduled released in September 2013.
In the mid-2000s, however, Verbruggen formed a group that would open up new avenues, moving into the realm of free improvisation, electronics, and noise — or what the band calls "emofreejazznoizesweetpunk" — while also drawing collaborators from outside Belgium. Othin Spake featured Verbruggen on drums, toys, and other implements along with dEUS guitarist Mauro Pawlowski and keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes; having never played together before, the three musicians were given free rein to perform a completely improvisational set in March 2005 at Brussels' L'Archiduc jazz venue. They might have bewildered some of the patrons, but nevertheless engendered interest from Antwerp's Jazz Middelheim and Bruges' Flemish Jazz Meeting festivals, where they performed later in 2005.
Over the next several years, Othin Spake began playing sets with invited guests from the New York City/Brooklyn avant music scene, bassist Trevor Dunn, harpist Shelley Burgon, and saxophonist/clarinetist Andrew D'Angelo, and also played a set at Rotterdam's 2007 North Sea Jazz Festival with iconic Belgian free improvising pianist Fred Van Hove. Othin Spake have released four albums: 2007's The Ankh consists of recordings from two Belgium concerts; 2008's Live @ Archiduc documents their first ever set from March 2005; Child of Deception and Skill (also issued in 2008) also features the core trio from early in its existence; and 2011's The Nethack Dictionary compiles selections from live dates between 2006 and 2011, and features appearances by Dunn, Burgon, D'Angelo, Van Hove, and FES/Caca/VVG Trio saxophonist Bruno Vansina. The Othin Spake albums have been released by the Rat Records label, co-founded by Verbruggen and saxophonist Vansina (whom Verbruggen met back in the conservatory) in 2003.
With Othin Spake's members and guests proving to be sympathetic cutting-edge improvisers, Verbruggen tapped into the project when assembling a new ensemble, the Bureau of Atomic Tourism (aka BOAT), to perform at Antwerp's Follow the Sound Festival in November 2011. Featuring Verbruggen on both drums and electronics, BOAT also included keyboardist Dumoulin, bassist Dunn, and reedman D'Angelo, along with French guitarist Marc Ducret and Brooklyn trumpeter Nate Wooley. With a band name referencing the fun practice of vacationing at nuclear (including accident) sites and facilities, the sextet toured Belgium, the Netherlands, and France in conjunction with the November 2011 Follow the Sound concert, documenting a show at the Paradox venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands for the 2013 Rat Records CD Second Law of Thermodynamics. Rat also issued a companion limited-edition vinyl release, Arco Idaho (named after the location of the world's first fatal nuclear accident), focusing on improvisations from the Tilberg date.
BOAT also embarked on a CD release tour of Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland in April 2013, with Amsterdam-based bassist Jasper Stadhouders (Cactus Truck, Spinifex, Lily's Déjà Vu) replacing Dunn. Recordings mainly from the tour date in Geneva, along with one track each from Paris and Brussels, were featured on BOAT's next album, Spinning Jenny, released by Rat during a spring 2014 tour of France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, and Slovenia. The 2014 tour lineup featured Verbruggen, Dumoulin, D'Angelo, and Wooley, with Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson replacing Ducret on guitar and New York bassist Tim Dahl replacing Stadhouders. A limited-edition vinyl release was also issued for the tour; Scintigraphy featured four remastered tracks from Second Law of Thermodynamics and cover art by noted Belgian contemporary artist Pierre Alechinsky. Hapax Legomena, a new BOAT album featuring the lineup of Verbruggen, Dumoulin, D'Angelo, Wooley, Jensson, and Dahl, arrived on Rat in August of 2015.
In addition to the aforementioned, Verbruggen leads the avant jazz quartet Gowk and co-leads the improvisational duo Chaos of the Haunted Spire with reedman Andrew Claes; as a sideman he has played drums with the Christian Mendoza Band, the Igor Géhenot Trio, and the VVG Trio with Vansina, among others. He also plays drums and percussion on the 2013 Sub Rosa label album Quintet, a collaborative improvisational album also featuring vocalist Phil Minton, cellist/vocalist Audrey Chen, electric bassist Guy Segers (Univers Zero), and double bassist Peter Jacquemyn. And in another intriguing Rat Records project, Verbruggen collaborated long-distance with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen (Supersilent), sending digital files of drums and electronics to Henriksen, who then added trumpet and other instruments along with samples and treatments; the result was the electro-acoustic sound collage album Black Swan, released on limited-edition vinyl in November 2012 and on CD in April 2013. ~ Dave Lynch