August 9, 2004
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)