Heavy Days Are Here Again
Atavistic/Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 207 CD

Nerve Beats
Atavistic/Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 206 CD

If improv music was looked on like pop music, this 1981 Cuypers session would have the same currency as Neil Young's reunion dates with Crosby, Stills & Nash. (As a matter of fact some of the hairstyles on the HEAVY cover would have been right at home on vintage folk-rockers' heads).

Maybe that's stretching the point a bit. But, still, this free-for-all is notable not only because it was the first time pianist Cuypers and Breuker — founding members of Breuker's zany Kollektief — played together after an acrimonious Lennon & McCartney-style split up, but also because it was Breuker's first collaboration with Bennink after an even more distant estrangement. Oh, and the music's great too.

Surprisingly enough, for players purported to be Continental madman, the four sound like participants a slightly off kilter freebop session, complete with tight heads, concise solos and well thought out endings. Breuker, especially, liberated from the responsibilities of directing the 11-piece Kollektief lets loose with flurries of notes, evenly matched at racing car speeds by Cuypers. After all, the pianist didn't come up with the name for the Dutch label BVHAAST (hurry up) by chance.

As for the compositions, the title track has a theme that sounds as if it fell out of the Jazz Messengers book, with Bennink in his hard-bop mold, Cuypers swirling notes on the keyboard and Gorter stretching his strings so hard that he cuts through the horn parts. Breuker, on alto saxophone, comes across like a hepped up Jackie McLean. The finger snapping, Townships-meets-Cannonball (Adderley) "Alsdat de Olifantstand" features the saxophonist tossing note shards like ANC gasoline bombs; while "Misha", named for pianist Mengelberg, features a faux-simple melody picked apart by Breukers's textbook sax fumblings and Bennink's barrage of percussion and blaring horns. "Blue Tango" is played almost straight until Breuker's purposely overblows his mostly chalumeau clarinet part. And so it goes.

Experience the disc yourself.

For those who can't get enough of Bennink, NERVE BEATS, a 1973 solo session recorded live in Germany by Radio Bremen, should satisfy the demand. Described as playing "anything/everything", the influential percussionist showcases an extended aural document of his modus operandi.

Key track is the more than 26-minute "Spooky Drums", a tour de force that's sometimes a tour de farce. For broad humor is much closer to the surface in Bennink's work than in many other improvisers', as anyone who has seen him perform can attest. Lacking the visual element, the CD merely reproduces his pulse quickening talents as he works his way through a percussion stockpile seemingly more varied than the components of the Star Wars defense system.

You can hear Bennink reveling in the sheer joy of creation — with "straight" jazz drumming following resonant vocalizing; then with something that's probably a metal sheet being shaken succeeding a hearty didgeridoo tone. Other sounds include: wood being sawed, wood blocks being struck, tablas being hit, a thumb piano being strummed, train whistles being blown, clarinet notes being wheezed, and even some primitive musique concrète with Bennink howling along to a pre-recorded piano LP.

All in all the performance leaves the listener as agitated and fatigued as the percussionist probably was on that day.

Since that time, many of Bennink's innovations have hardened into burlesque and schtick. So it's valuable to have a literal record of when his prodigious imagination first allowed him to explore the farthest reaches of the percussion universe.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Heavy: 1. Happy Days 2. Alsdat de Olifantstand 3. Misha 4. Stefanus 5. Be-Bach 6. Blue Tango 7. Couperin

Personnel: Heavy: Willem Breuker (saxophones); Leo Cuypers (piano); Arjen Gorter (bass); Han Bennink (drums, soprano saxophone, trombone)

Track Listing: Nerve: 1.Bumble Rumble 2. Spooky Drums 3. Nerve Beats

Personnel: Nerve: Han Bennink (drums, tablas, trombone, clarinet, rhythm-machine, anything/everything