Terra Firma
TRYtone TT559-031

Three grand pianos: no waiting could be the slogan attached to this CD from the Netherlands. It certainly displays all that can be accomplished when three generations of keyboardists combine their skills on the triple 88s – both acoustic and prepared.

While pianistically formidable, the 12 tracks sometimes give the impression of being more about the instrument and its resultant sounds than improvised music, however. The hope is that there would be the sort of sparks struck the way earlier all- piano groups such as the Pete Johnson-Albert Ammons-Meade Lux Lewis match-up or the Dick Hyman-Jay McShann-Dick Wellstood jam exhibited. But, although that happens from time to time, the results often drift closer to what you’d expect to hear from a trio made up of Ferrante & Teicher & Roger Williams.

Nearing 50, project organizer Albert van Veenendaal is a composer, arranger and producer who won a Dutch jazz competition in the early 1980s. Today he works with his own bands, plus world and classical musicians, theatre and dance companies and teaches. Travelling Light was initially organized as a four piano project, with van Veenendaal, Rob van den Broeck, Cor Fuhler and Sylvie Courvoisier, the last two of whom have recorded extensively as improvisers.

TERRA FIRMA however features Belgian pianist Jozef Dumoulin, a classical keyboardist who studied jazz, plus third member, Niko Langenhuijsen, who from the back-of-his head picture in the booklet – there are no shots of the performers’ faces – looks to be older than van Veenendaal – thus the three generation mixture. Someone who also teaches at a Dutch conservatory, Langenhuijsen has recorded jazz since the 1970s – around when Dumoulin was born – as well as with a vocalist on a program dedicated to Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca.

This heavy dose of academe weakens many of many of the tunes, composed by all three plus a couple of ringers. Throughout performance strategies reference stately classical recitals, clanking John Cage-like piano preparations and surface swing. With one pianist usually limning the theme and the other two ornamenting it, a typical track may include the clatter of items placed between or on the internal strings, funky Ramsey Lewis-like double keyboard licks and flashing, high-pitched octaves. One barely one-minute tune called “Slick” is merely an assembly line of glissandi.

Additionally, some of the shorter tunes seem to swell to impressionism without ever reaching proper rhythmic interludes – despite vibrating soundboard scrapes and slides. Imagine a Duke Ellington ballad turned lachrymose through the addition of solemn formalism.

More satisfying are two penultimate sketches by others plus the van Veenendaal-penned title track and “Mascarpone”. With echoes of Lennie Tristanto’s “Turkish Mambo”, “Terra Firma” consists of metronomic cross-patterning arpeggios from all concerned that midway through interject impressionistic harmonies and contrasting stride piano dynamics. The cascading chords take various forms as they range over the keys, leading to a finale of sped-up tempos and upward flourishes.

Much like a cabaletta or other European light-hearted fare, “Mascarpone” includes unusual effects such as emphasized octave jumps, slithers down the scale and in the bridge and recapping of the bouncy melody for a finale. “Radar” sound as if all three have been transformed into triplet McCoy Tyners, flashing modal chord sequences; while “Loops for Piano Part 2” voices contrasting andante tones among the trio with the end result an odd admixture of James P. Johnson and Conlon Nancarrow.

Besides setting aside some of the trio’s academic experiences exhibited here, it’s possible this CD may have been more impressive if van Veenendaal had traveled even lighter – on his own.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. De Waan de Dag (The Delusion of the Day) 2. Gazz 3. Abajo 4,. Iris 5. Slick 6. Terra Firma 7. It’s a Quarter to One Four Times a Day 8. Mascarpone 9. Wetlands 10. Radar 11. Loops for Piano 2 12. Harmonie

Personnel: Albert van Veenendaal, Niko Langenhuijsen and Joseph Dumoulin(acoustic and prepared pianos)