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Guus Janssen and his Orchestra
Zeeland Suite & Johnny Rep Suite
By Ken Waxman
May 30, 2005
Mythmaking abounds in improvised music as much in European free sounds as in American jazz after all, this genre has been the romantic music for more than 100 years.
Sadly, empirical research can reinterpret many of those fables as efficiently as it demythologizes other subjects. This brings up the tales of anarchistic Dutch jazz/free music. Since the majority of jazz fans i.e. North Americans didnt start to pay attention to the Netherlands until late 1980s, it appeared as if the mixture of zany humor and serious musicianship that characterized high-profile aggregations like the ICP Orchestra and Willem Breukers Kollektief (WBK) was a universal concept. Later bands lead by composers like pianists Guus Janssen and Michel Braam seemed to confirm this.
In truth New Dutch Swing, as some call it, was the result of a painstaking musical process that matched the natural Calvinism of the Netherlands with provocations from American Free Jazz and the 1960s New Left. Simultaneously, Europeans had to evolve past their American musical models and sound pastiches to spin political instigation, Energy Music and 20th Century, so-called classical music into something original.
This involved a lot more than a single Eureka! moment, and you can trace this hit-and-miss evolution on the two CDs reissued here. Pianist Leo Cupyers, one of Breukers closest initial associates and co-founder of the Bvhaast label, reflects the growth pains of this maturing style in two landmark suites, recorded in 1974 and 1977 by similarly constituted septets. A generation younger, Janssens Dancing Series, recorded with an 11-piece ensemble in 1988, shows how this bravura procedure evolved and eventually intersected with assorted other sounds.
Just as the orchestral voicings of Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk hung over early New Thing advances, so, in a way, both these sessions pay homage to the ideas of both the WBK and the ICPs chief conceptualizer Misha Mengelberg. Until he had a spat with Breuker, Cupyers was part of the WBK from its conception until 1979. Thus its no surprise to find Breuker, performing sideman duties featured on all tracks but two on the CD. Janssen, who has developed a parallel career as a so-called serious composer in the Netherlands, first had his talent confirmed by Mengelberg, with whom he studied in the 1970s. In fact, with its mixture of styles and jump cuts from one genre to another Dancing Series sound a bit like Mengelbergs and Breukers earlier, more anarchistic compositions, not to mention John Zorns POMO pastiches, recorded around the same time.
From 1974, Johnny Rep Suite, the earliest tracks here, finds Cupyers leading a mostly WBK crew with the one ringer tenor saxophonist Hans Dulfer Candys father who doesnt solo at all. The four tunes include a soccer anthem, driven by drummer Rob Verdurmen, plus other pieces that have more in common with American Free Jazz than the composer probably realized at the time. Most instructive are Floris & Rosa, Kirk and Rank Jump which join irregularly vibrated energy explosions with call-and-response reed lines and vocal screams. Mixing a faint flamenco beat and what sounds like The Volga Boatman into his solo on the second number, the pianist has to put up with a heavy drum backbeat and Breuker trying to emulate Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing two saxes at once. Sadly, unlike Kirk, he merely plays the theme on one sax and honks with the other.
Two humans playing one sax each Breuker and altoist Piet Noordijk fire trilling vamps and buzzing tongue flutters in broken octaves at one another on Rank Jump. Together they sound like what would have resulted if Ornette Coleman and one of his primary duplicators, say Byron Allen, had recorded together. Meanwhile Dufler and trombonist Willem van Manen expel the Netherlands version of circus sounds.
Only Cuypers is clearly his own man, with a Monkish piano exploration that includes pedal pumping and speed skating over the keys. A concluding duo with the drummer confirms this individualism, as he matches Verdurmens crashing cymbals with prepared piano-like action, soundboard string scratches and drumming on his instruments sides.
More audacious is the nine-part Zeeland Suite recorded three years later with mostly the same cast. The only changes are Martin van Duynhoven in for Verdurmen; Noordijk and Dulfer replaced by Bob Driessen on soprano, alto and baritone saxophones; and South African Harry Miller adding his bass to that of longtime WBK bull fiddler Arjen Gorter.
Both bassists are showcased on Two bass shit (sic), though the constantly hardening walking bass lines border on the Swing Era as much as the bebop tune parodied in the title. Cuypers piano voicing, set against the horn vamps brings up memories of Count Basie, not Bud Powell.
Enjoyable on the whole, Zeeland Suites one shortcoming is its constant musical shifts. A piece like Memories for instance, ratchets from mid-tempo Swing with Breukers bass clarinet in the lead, to a Phil Whitemanesque sweet ballad, to a finale that finds the reedist mocking the excesses of Energy Music, fragmenting his solo with body tube trilling and scratchy growls.
Intentional or not Something else cross breeds slick movie studio jazz with a feature for the bone man where he mixes bebops speed with pre-modern coloration. Despite its title as well, Joplin is more Boogie than Ragtime with the pianist twisting out two handed bass lines and one of the saxmen likely Breuker using a dike-wide vibrato in a frenzied Illinois Jacquet homage. No plooi at all Blues is a cocktail lounge blues with the pianists licks more Floyd Cramer than Big Maceo Merriweather. Supplemental, almost-corny plunger tones from van Manen and a soprano sax solo that conjures up a vision of Sidney Bechet in a Nudie cowboy suit are added on top.
Then theres the take on the classics a long-standing WBK jape entitled Bach II and Bach I. This gives the pianist scope to burlesque Baroque inventions and, before the sped-up tune ends with a contrapuntal dissolve, both soprano saxists build fruity glissandi to a double-tongued line mid-way between Rhapsody in Blue and a whine.
Even so, Cuypers own compositions like Mengelbergs and Breukers congruent attempts sometimes end up more like Frankensteins monster than breakthrough experiments. But you can certainly praise him for musical audacity. By the time Dancing Series was recorded a decade later, POMO pastiche was expected as a matter of course from advanced bands from the Netherlands. In his case then, its a tribute to Janssen that some of his pieces sound as original as they do.
Using an expanded palate, the pianist has four orchestral sections at his disposal. Trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and hornist Vincent Chancey made up the brass section. Ab Baars on soprano and tenor saxophones and clarinet plus alto saxophonist Paul Termos are the reeds. Violist Maurice Horsthuis, cellist Ernst Reijseger and bassist Raoul van der Weide are the string contingent. Added are former ProgRocker Jacques Palinckx on guitar and Janssens brother Wim on percussion.
Janssens compositions also apportion more solo space than WBK or ICP numbers do, and the trombonist and alto saxist make the most of it. Best-know for his work with the ICP, Wierbos brings a distinctive primitivist-modern style to his outings. While Termos (1952-2003), who died of pancreatic cancer, was a longtime associate of Janssen, hes mainly known as a notated chamber composer. Here, nonetheless, he plays whatever part is necessary to elevate the tune.
Consider and contrast JoJo Jive and Mambo for instance. On the former, the 11-pieces get a polyphonic sound not unlike Duke Ellingtons early Jungle band, most obviously borne on Wierbos tailgating trombone and in Baars spiky solos. Even though theres a similarity between this tune and East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Janssen himself like his mentor Mengelberg solos with more modernist Monk-Nichols inflections, themselves extensions of Ellingtonia. Complementing these piles of ringing reed cadences and two-handed, flashing arpeggios are Termos alto sounding like a florid and smooth Johnny Hodges until he too initiates reed squirts and duck quacks.
Before the horse whinnying trombone coda, the entire horn section vamps, van der Weide slaps his bass like Pops Foster, the drummer produces heavy bass drum accents and snare tap dances, while the pianist breaks up the time.
If this piece sounds like Paul Whiteman at his loosest an admitted influence on Cupyers and Breuker as well then Mambo could be right out of Perez Prados book. With Termos coming on like the lead player with Machito and Wim Janssen hitting his cowbell and applying friction to other Latin percussion, the rest of band vocalizes Indian war whoops and ersatz Spanish interjections.
On top of a shifting rhythm, Termos extends his solo in double-time. Of course the rub and rattle of the percussion and the vamping call-and-response in double or triple counterpoint from the sections dont mask the tunes POMO characteristics. Janssen for one, melds allegro rhythmic vibrations and a right-handed, Latinesque melody thats as Monkish as it is montuno. Leaping gnome-like over the keys, he pumps the beat more rapidly, racing along the keys from the very highest level to the lowest.
Although at almost 12½ minutes, the performance is overlong, Janssen maintains excitement in its penultimate minutes by banging conga-like on the wood of the pianos back and bottom frame, soundboard and trusses, an emulated? technique favored by Cuypers as well. Finale is a thematic reprise by the pianist followed by rest of band, climaxed with a high-pitched flourish from all concerned.
Elsewhere the orchestrations are organized to produce versions of everything from a weaving fox trot to two versions of punk rockers leaping pogo dance, with most tunes the musical equivalents of cinematic film cuts, replete with many false climaxes. Janssen also isnt afraid to expose other band members talents, often playing off different sections and pressing contrapuntal lines against one another. Palinckxs distorted flanging has as much prominence at one point as the Horsthuis-lead collated strings sounding out a legato melody do at another. Former Arkestra-member Chancey has scope for his burnished tone, but most of the other oral oscillations include reed and brass mouthpiece kisses, braying trombone timbres, trumpet triplets and quaking reed lines.
To boot, the pianist, whose own output includes knuckle-dusting high frequency action, isnt averse to compositionally exploiting the false fingering and ghosts tones of the horns as well as the sul tasto, sul ponticello and just plain instrument rib and belly scratching actions of his string players.
In hindsight, though, Dancing Series weakness is that by 1988 these pastiches were usually predictable in most Netherlands improv sessions, with Cuypers hit-and-miss creations replaced by POMO professionalism. Perhaps that why younger Dutch players are now exploring pure swing, electronica and formal composition.
Still both these discs are valuable souvenirs of and contain memorable sounds from two specifically historical musical times and places.
May 30, 2005
GUUS JANSSEN SEXTET
Hollywood O.K. Pieces
Permeated with Dutch iconoclasm, pianist Guus Janssen has birthed a memorable POMO session, by not doing precisely what youd expect a radical to do. His eight compositions are subversive not because theyre in-your-face, but because hes created sunny music without a hint of condescension.
Yet by letting the tunes go on to proper length -- the shortest is five minutes; while four weigh in at the 10 minute mark -- and arranging them for unusual instrumentation, he lets seditious impulses seep out beneath the swinging melodies. You end up tapping your foot before you realize the depth of musicianship that goes into each musical yarn.
Someone who has been involved with projects including fire-breathing free improv, cutting edge larger band discs, solo harpsichord and piano CDs, notated chamber music and the creation of an opera, the pianist is a master of many styles. Most frequently he works in trio filled out by his brother, drummer Wim, and bassist Ernst Glerum who is also on call for the ICP orchestra and Available Jelly.
On this CD, however, Janssens instrumentation relate back to the soft-bop late 1950s experiments of bands like Bob Coopers on the West Coast and Les Jazz Modes in the East. They used orchestral instruments such as Coopers oboe and Watkins French horn to create swinging chamber music. HOLLYWOOD O.K.s pieces are grittier than that, but they too feature an unusual -- for jazz -- front line. Bassoon is played by Michael Rabinowitz, whose associations include Free Jazz bassist Joe Fonda, mainstream saxist Joe Lovano and the Mingus Orchestra. French horn player Vincent Chancey, was not only a student of Watkins, but has been in Sun Ras Arkestra and Lester Bowies Brass Fantasy band.
Slow Step and Havank, which run right into one another, demonstrate Janssens multi-tasking at work. The former begins with Glerum approximating the sound of a slap bass with Rabinowitz -- whose name is spelled incorrectly on the CD -- using his reed monster to reference a 1920s brass bass continuum. With Wim Janssen on brushes, the pianist mixes his stride references with 18th century flourishes. As for Peter Van Bergen -- the third front-line partner, who usually plays sax in his own decidedly post-modern Loos band -- his clarinet playing ranges from circular breathing exercises to Benny Goodman-like obbligatos. As the bassoonist slurs out mellow, moderato color, Janssen key clips and the bassist shuffle bows then switches to a steady pizz.
Although it then appears that the six are building up to another version of It Dont Mean a Thing
, instead they slide into the more than 10½-minute Havank. Played andante, it still sounds like what would have happened if a bassoonist and French hornist had recorded with an Ellington small group -- oh, and if the Duke had used key stopping.
Here, unison chalumeau harmonies arise from the horns, until a series of plinks from the pianist and rolls and paradiddles from the drummer turn the clarinetist to reed biting and tongue slaps. As Chancy interjects plunger-like tones, Janssen comes up with a set of dynamic accents then descending note clusters. Finally, as Van Bergen switches back to a flowing Barney Bigard-like lead, the contrapuntal sounds build up, only to end with a single Janssen key click.
Other tunes include a rubato homage to another Janssen fav, Cool saxman Lee Konitz, that gives Wim Janssen space to show off some speedy Buddy Rich-like bass drum work and his Gene Krupa style sizzle cymbals. A third piece is so light-toned it could be a cabaletta and depends on the tonal resemblance of Chanceys axe to an Alp horn.
Trombone-like grace notes from the hornist are the main feature of April, which is expanded with tongue slaps from clarinet and internal string strumming from Janssen. Subversively, Chancey toys with snatches of a familiar melody over a Latinesque beat, which reveals itself to be I Remember April, played slightly and deliberately off key. Soon the pianist is contrasting dynamics and themes, with tune snatches appearing from either hand. Over some montuno, conga drum rhythms, the horns re-enter making a canon of differently voiced licks. Eventually over a low-key ostinanto from Rabinowitz, the melody is reprised in an even more off centre fashion.
As it should be obvious, Janssen and company have created a swinging session filled with offbeat surprises and suggestions. It can entertain the toughest jazzbo, yet wont frighten the least committed fan. What more could you want?
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listings: 1. Angelicanzone 2. Slow-Step 3. Havank 4. Konitzology 5. Passage 6. Memory Protect 7. Tricot 8. April
Personnel: Vincent Chancey (French horn); Peter van Bergen (clarinet); Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon); Guus Janssen (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Wim Janssen (drums)
August 9, 2004
AB BARRS TRIO PLUS GUESTS
Party at the Bimhuis
STATEMENTS EN MÉXICO
1er. Encuentro Internacional de Improvisación Libre
Jazzorca Records 014
Gatherings of old friends and new acquaintances, parties, if organized properly, can sometimes result in unique insights along with the good times. So it is with these two discs.
Recorded live in an Amsterdam club last year, PARTY AT THE BIMHUIS is the long overdue celebration of the 10 -- well, really 11½ -- year anniversary of reedist Ab Baars trio with bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven. Befitting a milestone, the three invited a group of associates to help them celebrate, and the assembled partygoers played in various combinations ranging from duo to septet.
A more formal affair, the other CD, subtitled First International Encounter of Free Improvisers grew out of a series of five concerts and a workshop in Mexico City in 2000. The idea was to create mix and match ensembles from among the capitals most experimental free jazzers and pure improvisers -- yes they exist there too. The international categorization came about when the locals were joined on some tunes by the German-born, New York-based Statements duo -- Hans Tammen on so-called endangered guitar and Ursel Schlicht on piano.
Baars, whose power and versatile improvising has also earned him a longtime berth in the ICP Orchestra, plays host to his boss, iconoclastic pianist Misha Mengelberg on a few tracks. Most revealing is a version of Thelonious Monks Reflections featuring the pianist and Baarss trio. While Mengelbergs jagged attack almost literally sounds like Monk -- complete with the stride piano inferences, Baarss tenor work goes beyond that of Charlie Rouses the American pianists most constant reed foil. Although he lags behind the beat when soloing, his vibrato is shakier (on purpose) and wider than Rouses ever was, and unlike the American, hes more abstract. He seems to be on the cusp of letting go each time he improvises a new phrase.
GF, another tenor feature, based incongruously on the opening of Beethovens Great Fugue for string quartet, shows off Baarss growling honks and slightly tart delivery as he pokes into every nuance of the tune. De Joode starts the piece off with a furious, focused bass slap, then turns to standard time, while van Duynhoven varies his accompaniment from military pacing to a steady pulse.
Tart delivery also characterizes the work of Chicago tenorist Von Freeman, who gets the septet treatment on Von, written by Baars in his honor. Here van Duynhovens expansive drum solo filled with rolling paradiddles and ruffs points out that while hes been recording in avant-garde circumstances since 1968, the drummer is easily able to work out in standard jazz time. Unison sax lines from Baars and early associate Mariëtte Rouppe van der Voort on alto saxophone -- she plays piccolo and flute elsewhere -- are actually a little farther out than Freemans blunt tempo when he digs into a tune. Interestingly as well, van der Voort touches the heart of improvisation in her solo, though her commitment to Chicago and Freeman isnt as pronounced as Baarss wavering growls. Violist Ig Henneman, the tenor mans longtime partner, creates a circular and non-sentimental lines here to maintain the mood.
Known as much for his clarinet as his sax playing, Baars shows it off on 3900 Carol Court, named for the home address of another mentor, the late Los Angeles-based reedman John Carter. Starting a cappella, his output highlights his control of the instrument that with equal facility can swoop from squeaking treetop notes in the coloratura register to woody chalumeau lines.
Indiaan (sic), another clarinet piece, features its composer, and an early employer of Baars, pianist Guus Janssen. Janssen, who shares a fascination with Native-American themes with the reedist, manages to burlesque Hollywood Indian music cliches with his left hand while improvising a new line on top of them with his right. Baars sounds out a mellow counter melody, while the rhythm section creates a polyrhythmic Pow Wow timbre, which the drummer begins with distinctive wooden percussion sounds.
A septet piece featuring Baars on clarinet and Rouppe van der Voort on bass flute reveals its dedicatee easily enough, since Baars, the composer, entitled it A Portrait of Roswell Rudd. Strangely enough though, the legato, adagio theme based around a subtle drumbeat and slithering viola line featuring no brass instruments. Instead, to the accompaniment of some miasmic Gil Evans-like chords from the horns and viola, the two pianists scoot and slither over the keyboards, with Janssen probably playing it more straight and stately and Mengelberg likely more skittering and spiky.
With 14 tracks packed into more than 73 minutes, the Free Improvisers party down Mexico way also allows every musician to participating in some way. Although like Baarss session a brass free zone -- except for the odd interjection from the trumpet of organizer German Bringàs, who more often plays soprano or tenor saxophone -- a plethora of other instruments make their appearance.
Most free jazzy of the tracks is Riesgo 13, also the longest at more than 12 minutes. With the overblowing and multiphonics of Bringàs on tenor saxophone, Raúl Aranda on alto saxophone and Remi Álvarez on baritone saxophone -- not to mention the triple basses of Aron Cruz, Roberto Aymez and Miguel Rodriguez -- what results is ASCENSION/MACHINE GUN textures.
Starting off with what sounds like the ringing of an alarm clock bell, rolling percussion from Hernán Hetch continues throughout, with Bringàs reed smears and snorts making the first impression. Soon high-intensity Cecil Taylor-like pianisms from Schlicht are vying for sonic space with bass guitar thumb taps and Alejandro Sánchezs wiggling, Billy Bang-type fiddle scratches. Pulsating unison tones, high-pitched violin glissandos and a pumping pedal-point bottom from Álvarezs baritone bring the piece to a crescendo.
Mostly different personnel in another tentet make the final, barely four minute track another screaming free-for-all, although the distorted guitar picking from Tammen, Carlos Castillo and Salvador Cruz create a different texture and bring up memories of one of those Eugene Chadbourne-led electric avant-folk blow outs.
More importantly, the unjustly unknown-north-of-the-Rio-Grande Mexicans acquit themselves admirably in small groupings as well. Riesgo 4, for instance, finds the pianist playing cross handed tremolos and chords met by a continuous glissando from alto clarinetist Marcos Miranda. Meanwhile Walter Schmidt on bass guitar and Cruz scratch away with a combination of bottleneck slides and what sounds like the pressing heavy objects on the strings.
A quartet of the Statements duo, Bringàs on soprano sax and drummer Carlos Bonequi finds the four in EuroImprov territory on Riesgo 10 with the tune based around short, left-handed fantasias from the pianist, splayed distorted fingering from the guitarist and stroked percussion lines. Meanwhile the reedist interrupts with flutter tonguing and irregular vibrations, then with quacking and honking that get more repetitive, but mellifluous at the same time. Finally Bringàs evokes closure with dog whistle squeals.
Featuring just Tammen, Aranda and Álvarez, Riesgo 1 finds the guitarist supplying the continuum with electronic buzzes and e-bow torquing, while the reedists produce droning, over-miked curls that move from tongue slaps to alp horn yodels. Riesgo 12 with Bringàs and Miranda joining the guitarist finds the German-American exploring the sound field available from his axe neck and behind the bridge until he creates buzzing, shorting and modulating feedback tones. One reedman plays straight lines, while the other overblows so much so that at points a dense bagpipe timbre is created and at others shrill, but melodic tones echo back and forth from one to the other.
In a more modern vein, Mario de Vegas sampler faces off against Tammens electro-impulses on Riesgo 7 to create tones that appear to be a combination of Star Wars and seashore explorations. Between the growls, sine wave movements and electronically tinged static, the plectrumist uses quick, pinprick flat-picking to make space for himself among video game noises that crash, bang and aurally explode.
More universal than Mexican, the only geographical musical references appears on Riesgo 5, which adds Schlicht and Francisco Bringàs on tabla to the guitar/sampler duo. Here what appears to be pealed bells, scraped guitar strings and powerful piano pressure syncopate forward in ringing octaves to makes short work of some sampled, whiny Tejano tunes.
STATEMENTS also features memorable clavichord-like dampened action solos from the pianist and industrial strength responses from the guitarist in duo. Besides being a disc which features two musicians who record too infrequently, singly or together, the main reason to investigate this session is to familiarize yourself with the flourishing talents of some Mexican improvisers.
Baarss party disc is yet another confirmation that cosmopolitan improvisers are numerous on the Continent -- as most people now know. The other CD shows that first-class thinkers and players dont stop at the United States southern border.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Party: 1. 3900 Carol Court 2. GF 3. Indiaan+ 4. Party Talk#*^ 1 5. A Portrait of Roswell Rudd#*+^ 6. Party Talk 2# 7. Von#*+^ 8. Party Talk#+ 3 9. Whispers of Horsemeat# 10. Reflections^ 11. Enter from the East#*+^
Personnel: Party: Mariëtte Rouppe van der Voort #(alto saxophone, piccolo and flute); Ab Baars ([all tracks but 4 and 8] clarinet and tenor saxophone); Ig Henneman* (viola); Guus Janssen+ (piano); Misha Mengelberg^ (piano); Wilbert de Joode ([all tracks but 4 and 6] bass); Martin van Duynhoven ([all tracks but 4, 6, 8, 9] drums)
Track Listing: Statements: 1. Riesgo 1^& 2. Riesgo 2*+ 3. Riesgo 3~ 4. Riesgo 4* 5. Riesgo 5*@ 6. Riesgo 6+^& 7. Riesgo 7@ 8. Riesgo 8*^~ 9. Riesgo 9* 10. Riesgo 10*+ 11. Riesgo 11@ 12. Riesgo 12+ 13. Riesgo 13*+^&~ 14. Riesgo 14*+@
Personnel: Statements: Marcos Miranda (clarinet, soprano saxophone [tracks 12, 14]); German Bringàs (soprano and tenor saxophones, trumpet) +; Raúl Aranda (alto saxophone)&; Remi Álvarez (baritone saxophone)^; Alejandro Sánchez (violin)~; Salvador Cruz (acoustic guitar [tracks 4, 14]); Carlos Castillo (electric guitar [tracks 11, 14]); Hans Tammen (endangered guitar[all tracks but 4, 6, 8]); Ursel Schlicht* (piano) Walter Schmidt (bass guitar [track 4]); Arón Cruz [tracks 6, 13], Roberto Aymez [tracks 2, 6, 13], Miguel Rodriguez [tracks 8, 13](bass); Carlos Bonequi [track 14], Hernán Hetch [tracks 2, 3, 13] (drums); Francisco Bringàs ([tracks 5, 11, 14] tabla); Mario de Vega (sampler)@
February 23, 2004
Sphere Essence: Another Side of Monk
Playscape PSR #J010303
Plays the Music of Lee Konitz
Geestgronden GG 021
Playing the music of a well-known jazz composer can be a double bind. Play it too cleanly and people think youre just a copycat, play it too unconventionally and others think you cant make the changes.
These are the challenges facing the musicians on these tribute discs, but happily the five have managed to overcome most of these pitfalls. While remaining true to the spirit of Lee Konitzs -- and by extension Lennie Tristanos -- ideas in one case and Thelonious Monks difficult pianisms in the other, theyve individually come up with CDs that reflects themselves as much as the honorees.
Sound-Lee is made up of four Dutch musicians who had an interest in Konitz, Tristano and their circle long before this CD was organized. Pianist Guus Janssen, whose work encompasses opera and orchestral work as well as improv, has said that Tristanos style fit me like my pants, but then you have to wear the pants. Yet here in a tribute to the American pianists first and most famous acolyte -- and the one who was the first to break with Tristano -- Janssen introduces influences that the inflexible Tristano would never have countered. Janssens brother -- and long-time playing partner -- drummer Wim, and bassist Raoul van der Weide, who has worked with everyone from pianist Burton Greene to trombonist Joost Buiss eight-piece Astronotes Extended, are along for the ride.
In the unenviable role of playing Konitz to Janssens Tristano is the now Boston-based alto man Jorrit Dijkstra, who previously has involved himself in difficult but rewarding pitch-shifting solo saxophone and lyricon work and with a trio immersed in electronics and sampling. Yet he was already studying Konitzs work in the mid-1990s when Janssen first met him. On this CD he too brings extended techniques and antithetical jazz references to Konitzs Tristano/Cool school oeuvre.
If The Dutch quartet copes with reinterpreting the work of a player who usually operates a distance away from the big time jazz business, imagine the potential hazards American pianist Peter Madsen is up against. Not only is Thelonious Monk -- the man whose music hes celebrating -- known for his idiosyncratic compositions, but Monk managed to maintain his singularity for nearly 40 years, while operating in the thick of the conventional jazz scene.
Madsen, who now divides his time between New York and Bregenz, Austria, faces this in a personally paradoxical fashion. He approaches Monks music from two different sides. In one he calls on the mainstream experience he gained playing with the like of tenor saxophonists Stanley Turrertine and Benny Golson; the other extends the experimental position he has shown with players like saxist Ted Levine and bassist Mario Pavone. As someone who has studied all of the older pianists work, he includes some of Monks less familiar tunes here as well as Monks hits.
Lets start in Holland, though. Unlike some CDs, the 70-minutes program flashes by as if its half the length, perhaps thanks to the pop melodies underlying many of Tristanos and Konitzs pieces. But the treatment here is tough enough to put an edge on the proceedings.
For instance on Ablution, which was Tristano and Konitzs recasting of All The Things You Are not only can you sense the original tune, but also the bop line underneath it. Creating melodies in both hands that end with an EuroImprov turnaround, Janssens work is doubled by Dijkstras squeals and trills in the latter half of the track.
Then theres a speedy opening of Paolo-Alto, where the saxmans deeper tones, near screeches, honklets and spetrofluctuation not only excavate the artifacts from Strike Up The Band, but seems to introducing I Want To Be Happy as well. However, the reedists extended techniques are something from which Konitz still stays away. Meanwhile in his corner, the pianist seems to be playing boogie woogie figures, something the cerebral Tristano would likely have frowned upon in his teaching days; while the drummer figuratively tap dances on his drum heads. Expressing himself on the tippy-top treble keys, Janssen replicates real honky-tonk stylings at the end of his solo.
Dijkstra is by choice a sloppier and harsher player than Konitz, something thats made clear on his own Near-Lee. A hand-clapper that features Latinesque rhythms, the saxophonist starts off his solo with blaring duck sounds, modulates to a fluffy vibrato, then slides up and down the scale, with more double tonguing, slurs and burrs that any Tristanoite could imagine. Pianist Janssen slides and strums chords, creating tiny études that seem to go off on tangents than circle back to the main theme. Although the drum solo almost loses the musical thread, Dijkstras turnaround reprises the theme and gets everyone back on track.
On the andante Ice Cream Konitz, individual notes are emphasized the way tenor saxist Charlie Rouse did when working with Monk. And Janssen ,who seems to mix 19th century impressionism with splashing octaves during his solo here, is even more Monkish than in other places. Rococo legit formalism works in lockstep with tremolo syncopation on Karys Trance to such an extent that despite a waterfall of notes, the pianist seems to be channeling Monk not Tristano. And is that Mysterioso that gets quoted on Hi Beck? It certainly sounds like Monks music with its behind-the-beat effects.
Perhaps thats why SOUND LEE works so well. Despite the delineated homage, the four arent straightjacketed into the Tristano/Konitz style, but definitely include outside and more modern influences.
Back in Austria where SPHERE ESSENCE was recorded, Madsen appears to approach Monk in a fashion opposite to where the Dutchman took Konitz. If their Konitz is harsher and more disorderly than the original, Madsens Monk is tidier and more conventionally tonal than the pianist/composer was in real life.
A much more technically proficient and expansive pianist than Monk ever was, Madsen has a tendency to add more notes to the compositions than Monk would have wanted. But he does know his jazz history. On many of these tunes he goes beneath the Monkisms to expose the early Broadway show tunes and Harlem rent party influences that are part of the compositions DNA.
This is clearest on Hornin-In, a little-known number Monk recorded in 1952 with a sextet featuring trumpeter Kenny Dorham and saxophonists Lou Donaldson and. Lucky Thompson. True to form, the version here makes the tune appear half Broadway and half stride, with lots of free association tremolos, rolling octaves and plenty of arpeggios sliding over the keys. The extended tremolo at the conclusion makes it sound as if it was written to be part of some forgotten 1920s musical.
Trinkle tinkle is reconstituted with a quasi-player-piano rhythm that creates a mind picture of keys pulsating up and down. There are even ragtime suggestions in the oh-so-proper syncopated accents, with a reprise of the theme appearing in the final 30 seconds.
Evidence begins with the familiar theme plinked from the piano strings, with dampened hammer pressure giving it rhythmic expression, and pedal constrain helping manipulate variations on the melody. Earlier left-handed thumps give way to another reprise in the highest pitch. Monks Mood, with its overly gentle, sliding scales allows Madsen to sounds out every note with an insouciant swing. But with so many emphasized notes giving the tune a night club vibe, it sounds as if it may be Bill Evans mood or Wynton Kelleys, but not necessarily Monks. The same thing happens with Oska T, which becomes darker and more dramatic -- almost melodramatic -- than it was in Monks version, with the piano techniques very much on show. Madsen is learned enough to showcase a different theme in each hand, but the piece almost become a standard bop line.
Some of this recasting at least shows off Madsens individuality and the pianist can be praised for giving us a different view of Thelonious. But Ugly Beauty is a definite misstep. Almost a supper club parody of Monks music, the pianist seems to smooth out all of its angularity and trade its rhythmic impetus for a light slide from high keys to a comfortable middle range.
Other tracks that could have been eliminated are the three, all-under-two-minutes Monkaludes. Talented enough to manipulate the internal strings like a National steel guitar and create harp-like arpeggios or percussive interludes here, Madsen should have realized that these performances are fulfilling in themselves. They dont appear to have much to do with Monk and would probably have been better placed on another session.
Built on the piano dexterity that Monk lacked or chose to ignore, SPHERE ESSENCE is only partially successful because Madsen has flatten many of the composers jagged edges. SOUND LEE works much better because the quartet members have done the opposite: roughed up Konitzs tunes and given them more swagger.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Plays: 1. Progression 2. Hi Beck 3. Palo-Alto 4. Near-Lee 5. Ablution 6. Karys Trance 7. Ice Cream Konitz
Personnel: Plays: Jorrit Dijkstra (alto saxophone); Guus Janssen (piano); Raoul van der Weide (bass); Wim Janssen (drums)
Track Listing: Sphere: 1. Thelonious 2. Evidence 3. Hornin-in 4. Oska T 5. Ugly Beauty 6. Monkalude T 7. Criss Cross 8. Monkalude S 9. Trinkle tinkle 10. Four In One 11. Monkalude M 12. Feeling That Way Now a.k.a. Monks Mood
Personnel: Sphere: Peter Madsen (piano)
October 13, 2003