Jazz is an American art form, but in the 1960s and ’70s jazz-related music for the first time became an international phenomenon. Inspired by the more radical players from the homeland, European musicians began to explore their own means of expression, inspired by contemporary classical idioms and interdisciplinary art movements. The initial phase of the new European free improvisation movement was truly international, involving Dutch, German, British, Swedish, Italian, and Belgian musicians, developing eventually into separate, if related national scenes. The music these men played was intentionally rough, loud, and virtuosic, an assault on the ears that sought to eradicate listening habits and bourgeois comfort, in concert with the political and artistic revolts of the late sixties.

One of the seminal groups in the new music was a trio consisting of the German saxophonist Peter Broetzmann, the Dutch percussionist Han Bennink, and the Belgian pianist Fred van Hove, who had earlier worked together in various combinations, including Broetzmann’s octet. The trio was formed in 1970 and stayed together for five years; after it dissolved, Broetzmann and Bennink continued to play together off and on as a duo and with other musicians. In recent years they’ve both visited this country quite often, performing in Ann Arbor and its vicinity, but van Hove went his own way and remains less known on these shores.

Fred van Hove studied classical piano and composition in his native Belgium and played various forms of more popular music before becoming involved with the new improvisation movement. The dissolution of the high-energy trio in 1975 paved the way for new challenges as a performer and as a composer, and in the ensuing decades he has explored a wide variety of settings for his music. He was able to concentrate on solo and duet performances that offered more opportunity for musical clarity and the exploration of space, and to compose for a variety of instrument combinations. Recordings from this time reveal a pianist possessed of a well-honed technique with a unique style that combines classical, jazz, and new music influences in equal measure, which explores the full extent of the tonal palate of his instrument.

Van Hove is a very serious musician with a delicate sense of humor who can play a slow sparse tune full of delicate dissonance, only to follow it with a modernistic, slightly lopsided piece of boogie-woogie or stride piano. Years of playing powerful music show at all times; even when he is quiet and melodic, there is a sureness of touch and a pent-up excitement that hints at a possible explosion at any time. Although he remains relatively unknown in the U.S., he continues to be a major presence in Belgium, Europe and Japan, often playing with some of the most renowned improvisers from all over the world.

In recent decades van Hove has had success as a composer, including music for theater and film, as a teacher, and as a collaborator with artists in other media. This month he finally performs in our country and will open the 16th annual Edgefest, the international improvised music festival, on Wednesday, October 31, at the Kerrytown Concert House.