WILLEM BREUKER KOLLEKTIEF

Misery
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 band’s 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. It’s just amazing how, after all these years, the formula still works.

Of course the WBK of 2002 shouldn’t be confused with the saxophonist’s 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, today’s WBK is above all a reading band, able to take in anyone’s score at a glance and immediately turn the music on paper into note-perfect, swinging section work, sort of the way bands like Jimmy Lunceford’s and Tommy Dorsey’s 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, it’s 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 CD’s two longest pieces — you’re reminded of the members of those little bands within the big bands like Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, Dorsey’s Clambake Seven or Bob Crosby’s 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”. There’s 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, there’s 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 Norden’s tenor saxophone solo, but there’s not much in it that Zoot Sims wouldn’t have played in 1956. Andrew Bruce’s trombone feature is all slick pre-modern splashes and smears. While Gorter’s short turn relates more to Paul Chambers-style time keeping than anything he himself was doing in the 1960s. Still if it wasn’t for his beat and drummer Rob Verdurmen’s rhythmic command the whole thing would ground to a halt midway when Hermine Deurloo toots out some amateurish harmonica tones. Let’s 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 Whiteman’s orchestra in the 1920s as much as Duke Ellington’s 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 Lombardo’s “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 Jonge’s waltz time arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “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 haven’t been heard since the heyday of the Casa Loma Orchestra. The brief version of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1739 “Musette En Rondeau” is as stiff and heraldic, as you’d expect of any court music of that day.

There’s plenty of variety on this nearly 59½-minute session and a lot of well-played good music. But there isn’t 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 band’s 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)