December 2, 2002
WILLEM BREUKER KOLLEKTIEF
Bvhaast CD 0204
Twenty-eight years after its organization, it appears as if there are rote expectations that must be met with every CD and live performance by the Willem Breuker Kollektief (WBK). The program, it seems, must include some thematic orchestral pastiche composed and arranged by leader Breuker, with space left for the bands main jazz soloists, including himself; there has to be a rearrangement of a famous or obscure pop song; some early so-called classical piece must be recast; and space should be left for a tongue-in-cheek vocal (in English) by Breuker himself.
MISERY fills the bill. Its just amazing how, after all these years, the formula still works.
Of course the WBK of 2002 shouldnt be confused with the saxophonists earliest, more anarchistic bands or his even-earlier career as a freelance free jazz firebrand whose saxophone playing ignited many a Continental improv session. No, todays WBK is above all a reading band, able to take in anyones score at a glance and immediately turn the music on paper into note-perfect, swinging section work, sort of the way bands like Jimmy Luncefords and Tommy Dorseys would pride themselves on doing during the Swing Era.
There are questions about the material as well. Are certain tunes included because Breuker is mocking them; or does he too share a guilty pleasure in a well-played melody with his longtime followers? As for the original material, its as theatrical as always, rife with distinct harmonies, structural principles and direct quotes from other sources. Yet there is such an extensive Kollektief repertoire now, some of it frequently revived and reorchestrated, that compositions appear as set pieces within a program, rather than standalone creations.
You could say that about the soloists as well. In truth, the most accomplished are trumpeter Boy Raaymakers, bassist Arjen Gorter and Breuker himself, all grizzled veterans of the so-called Golden Era of Free Jazz. However when anyone steps forward —as happens on I Remember April and Hulpverkrabber 911, the CDs two longest pieces — youre reminded of the members of those little bands within the big bands like Artie Shaws Gramercy Five, Dorseys Clambake Seven or Bob Crosbys The Bobcats. Each soloist exhibits his specialty rather than advancing the piece at hand.
April is illustrative in itself, as it mixes that ballad with snatches of the lesser-known Senza Parole. Theres a steady jazz beat from the rhythm section — all cymbals and snares — plus pounding bass lines mixed with some cheesy roller rink organ heavy on the tremolos played by Henk de Jonge. Finally, theres a full orchestra transition that brings to mind tuxedo wearing hotel bands in 1930s Hollywood musicals. Minor trilling and note chasing characterize some of Martin van Nordens tenor saxophone solo, but theres not much in it that Zoot Sims wouldnt have played in 1956. Andrew Bruces trombone feature is all slick pre-modern splashes and smears. While Gorters short turn relates more to Paul Chambers-style time keeping than anything he himself was doing in the 1960s. Still if it wasnt for his beat and drummer Rob Verdurmens rhythmic command the whole thing would ground to a halt midway when Hermine Deurloo toots out some amateurish harmonica tones. Lets just say that neither Toots Thielemans nor James Cotton is losing any sleep this year.
A recent Breuker composition Hulpverkrabber sounds better, even though the composer or band members seem not to have made a final decision on its lineage. Featuring aural suggestions of fire bells and freight trains on one hand and waltzes and fanfares on the other, it drifts between earnest and parody. Stomping section parts with European pseudo-Oriental timbres resemble those played Paul Whitemans orchestra in the 1920s as much as Duke Ellingtons Jungle band classics. And a sped-up variation on Charles Mingus Boogie Stop Shuffle peers in and out of the arrangement as a leitmotif. While Raaymakers and section mate Andy Altenfelder may be spearing high notes as Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams used to do for Ellington, the slurping sax section sounds as if it just wandered over from Guy Lombardos sweetest band this side of heaven. Then before Verdurmen ends everything with a Gene Krupa-style drum display, Breuker, on soprano, squeezes out one of his near-patented free jazz screeches, all split tones, growls and with a stop time section. How much of this is a put-on, you wonder?
You could ask the same question about de Jonges waltz time arrangement of Hoagy Carmichaels My Resistance Is Low. Vocalist Breuker is reborn as a whispering boy singer of the 1930s, with the rest of the band members providing first vocalizing glee club style, then taking a unison vocal by themselves. Meanwhile the horns provide some sweet, sweeping sax riffs that havent been heard since the heyday of the Casa Loma Orchestra. The brief version of Jean-Philippe Rameaus 1739 Musette En Rondeau is as stiff and heraldic, as youd expect of any court music of that day.
Theres plenty of variety on this nearly 59½-minute session and a lot of well-played good music. But there isnt any exploratory, improvisational jazz here. Although several other discs released in the past 10 years offer a similar program, the CD will be welcomed by WBK fanatics. It can also serve as a good introduction to the band for the uninitiated, and is a fine souvenir of the bands present-day live show.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing 1. Hap Sap 2. Wake Up! 3. Thirst IV (The End of the Rope) 4. Angry Jungle 5. Hulpverkrabber 911 6. My Resistance Is Low 7. Senza Parole 8. I Remember April 9. Musette En Rondeau
Personnel: Boy Raaymakers, Andy Altenfelder (trumpets); Andrew Bruce (trombone); Bernard Hunnekink (trombone, tuba); Willem Breuker (soprano and alto saxophones, vocal); Hermine Deurloo (alto saxophone, harmonica); Maarten van Norden (tenor saxophone); Henk de Jonge (piano, organ, electronics); Arjen Gorter (bass); Rob Verdurmen (drums)