In Holland
BVHaast 0101

To Remain
BVHaast CD 1601

Nearly 30 years after the creation of the Willem Breuker Kollektief you can refer to energetic reissues like these two and note how the Dutch 10-piece band has changed over time.

One of the Big Three post-Bop movers and shakers in Holland — pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink are the other two — saxophonist/composer Breuker was initially allied with the other two in the Instant Composers Pool (ICP). But, as a ferocious improviser who was as likely to turn up on sessions led by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, vibist Gunter Hampel or trumpeter Don Cherry as on Dutch dates, he obviously had energy to spare. Furthermore, gifted with a broad if somewhat sardonic sense of humor and a broad theatrical sense, he was able to tailor compositions to parodistic happenings, stage presentations, TV shows and films.

Eventually it became clear that he wasn’t prepared to play Trotsky to Mengleberg and Bennink’s Lenin and Stalin, as one of three who made a revolution, and he went on his own. Since that time Breuker, in concert with the leaders of some other large European aggregations has tended to downplay improvisations for charts that reflect his interest in modern classical music, opera, cabaret and pop music. Furthermore, he has made sure that everything the band plays is served up with a hearty drollop of visual humor. At the same time the Kollektief has grown and shrunk in size with vocalists, string players and the like added and subtracted at different times. Today a Kollektief performance is as liable to be an entertaining show as much as a jazz concert, with the leader coming across as sort of a Lowlands Paul Shaffer.

That’s a bit unfair, even though Shaffer did start off as a jazzer and has recorded with guitarist Muñoz and tubaist Howard Johnson. Although his music is peppy enough for late night TV, Breuker is far too anarchistic be long satisfied as second banana to smarmy David Letterman. Still, his vocal turn as a rock star/lounge lizard on “To be with Louis P.” on IN HOLLAND sounds a lot like Shaffer’s present persona.

Although the Kollektief remains the only other orchestra besides Sun Ra’s Arkestra that could aurally illustrate cartoons without a second thought, since the first CD here was recorded in 1981 and TO REMAIN in 1983, 1984 and 1989, the basic jazz-improv shape of the band is still in place. Breuker is also a good leader, despite — or perhaps because — of the fun produced. Although he gives plenty of space to the exceptional jazz soloists he has on board, he always makes it clear that the band itself is paramount. Also, like Duke Ellington’s orchestra at least a quartet of his bandsmen have been with him for almost the entire time and at least one band chair was emptied due to the death of its occupant.

Each reissue has something to recommend it. IN HOLLAND, recorded at one time is tighter, while TO REMAIN, a pastiche of three sessions, showcasing different soloists.

Nationalistically or jokingly, IN HOLLAND has as its raison d’être a rather straightforward four-part run through of “Concertino no. 5 in F minor” by Dutch baroque composer Unico Willem van Wassenaer (1692-1766). Despite the shared first name between the composer and Breuker, the main reason to perform the concertino merely seems to be to prove that, along with its other attributes, the ensemble can come up with a note-perfect recreation of period music.

Besides, that CD contains one of Breuker half reverent/half serious tangos with what sounds like a toy piano intro, a few yells and some car horn noises from the saxes. Then there’s “Kudeta”, a showcase for keyboardist Henk de Jonge that seems to meld modern jazz, Rachmaninoff, ragtime and “Moonlight Sonata”.

This musical schizophrenia continues with most of the soloists. Drummer Rob Verdurmen, for instant, keeps a steady modern jazz beat going most of the time, but appears to be emulating Gene Krupa’s “Sing Sing Sing” solo on “Overture from ‘De Vuyle Wasch’”. On his own “Pale Fire” tenor saxophonist Maarten van Norden probes deep into the avant-garde stratosphere, while the backing sounds like big band cartoon music. Even Boy Raaymakers’ feature, “Deining”, floating on a boppish piano figure, shows the veteran trumpeter coming across half Clifford Brown and half Lester Bowie, then ending like a Swing era soloist soaring over band riffs.

Section mate Andy Altenfelder appears to be playing a frelich at a Jewish wedding on “Hopsa, Hopsa”, but mixing his neighing Ziggy Ellman tone with a Bubber Miley growl. It’s an impression intensified by the accordion playing of composer de Jonge and Breuker’s Klezmer-style clarinet. But is that a quote from non-kosher “Jingle Bells” at the end?

Maybe this analysis is a bit too serious since “Interruptie”, the leader’s breakneck alto sax showcase mixes circus music blats with a sweet band reed man’s fruity tone. It ends as if he was a vaudeville trick horn player showing how high he can play and how many effects he can produce from his horn.

The cleavage in the solos is reflected in the overall creation. Fun and frantic, the backing figures and harmony appear to be distinctively in the mainstream of modern big band writing, except that is when Breuker seems to slip into some Gordon Jenkins-Billy May-like sophisticated swing. With their brass flourishes and references to tangos and European classical music the parts sound distinctive, but after the disc’s more than 78 minute (!) running time, similar to one another.

Three variants of the Kollektief give the second disc more of a variety of sounds, but paradoxically as the leader takes over all the writing chores, the number and duration of solos seems to decrease as the amount of references — humorous and otherwise — to other musical sources increases.

Among the standouts is trombonist Bernard Hunnekink’s speedy triple tonguing gutbucket outing on “Lokk”. He plays with growls and grit, though the horn charts in the background suggest semi-exotica à la Les Baxter. Alto saxophonist André Goudbeek constructs his feature on “Snevel” with a mixture of consistent Hard Bop with a few New Thing freak effects, though he does seem to be playing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” by the end. Bassist Arjen Gorter appears to be doing no more than exposing his inner Paul Chambers while timekeeping on “Nijpe” and “Hasps”. But this tune featuring de Jonge, speeds up and slows down so often that you aren’t sure whether he’s seriously or jokingly referencing Bebop, Chopin études and energy music at different times.

Meanwhile the last track appears to pure group music taken at a frantic tempo with quotes from “Tiger Rag”, “Take the A Train” and a final plink-plink-plink section straight from Count Basie’s piano playing. On the other hand, the penultimate track is a recreation of locomotive sounds complete with a train whistle — and how often has that been done? “Wolkbreuk III” comes across like a Merrie Melodies version of a sea shanty, complete with cannon sounds from the synthesizer and a snatch of “Rule Britannia”. But why does this foot tapper have a swaying schmaltzy saxophone interlude that sounds closer to the work of vaudeville C-Melody sax master Rudy Wiedoeft than anyone in the Ellington band?

Taking up tracks 3 to 13, the title tune never lets up, but often in between the solos the forward motion owes more to European brass band fanfares, military marches, Cossack dances and British jigs than jazz time. Obviously 4/4 is not God’s tempo — no matter what the neo-con jazzers may say — but when he isn’t careful, and isn’t swinging, Breuker has a tendency to become overly cute and corny

Measuring them against the unimaginative, derivative works that many conservative European and American biggish bands have produced since that time both CDs are exciting and worth your attention. But as souvenirs of how the Kollektief has changed and what it has become, they may collectively be a caution as well as an augury.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Holland : 1. Ouverture from “De Vuyle Wasch”; 2. Sur l’autoroute 3. Tango superior 4. Interruptie 5. Deining 6. Kudeta 7. Prokof 8. Invasie muziek Bob + Babe 9. To be with Louis P.* 10. Pale fire 11. Hopsa, Hopsa Concertino no. 5 in F minor 12. Adagio 13. Da Cappella 14. A temps commodo 15. A temps giusto 16. Marche Funèbre from “De Vuyle Wasch”

Personnel: Holland : Boy Raaymakers, Andy Altenfelder (trumpet); Willem van Manen, Bernard Hunnekink (trombone); Willem Breuker (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, vocal*), Bob Driessen (alto and baritone saxophones), Maarten van Norden (alto and tenor saxophones); Henk de Jonge (piano, accordion, synthesizer); Arjen Gorter (bass); Rob Verdurmen (drums)

Track Listing: Remain: 1. Driebergen-Zeist* 2. Wolkbreuk III* To Remain: 3. Nork 4. Hoddel 5. Snevel 6. Mikkel-Gnoer 7. Dalf 8. Lokk 9. Nijpe 10. Haps 11. Barst 12. Plank III 13. Ontegen 14. Hap Sap+ 15. Like Other People Say 16. What ?*

Personnel: Remain: Raaymakers, Altenfelder (trumpet) Greg Moore [3-13,15], Hunnekink, Garrett List*, Chris Abelen+ (trombone); Breuker (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), André Goudbeek (alto saxophone), Peter Barkema [3-15], (tenor saxophone), van Norden (tenor saxophone, clarinet)*; de Jonge (piano, synthesizer); Gorter (bass); Verdurmen (drums, percussion)