Play Station 6

Evil Rabbit Records ERR 03

Not the console designed for video games such as Grand Theft Auto, this Play Station involvement is with a pastime of more serious intent: free improvisation. This Play Station 6 is a six-member band whose #1 promises an imposing future. The 13 improvisations on its debut session here show off the individual and cumulative talents of this mixed Dutch-German Ensemble.

Recorded in Köln, the players were in the city to experiment with a sextet format, adding veteran drummer Paul Lovens to a line-up that performs as a quintet in the Netherlands. Two of the other participants are German-born: pianist Achim Kaufmann and bassist Meinrad Kneer. The others – violinist Maartje Ten Hoorn, cornetist Eric Boeren and reed man Tobias Delius – all except for the last Dutch – live in Amsterdam, as do Kaufmann and Kneer.

Extracting many rabbits – not evil ones, one hopes – from his hatful of percussion tricks during the session, it hardly seems plausible that Lovens hasn’t been with the group full-time from the beginning. But considering that he regularly gigs with everyone from French bassist Joëlle Léandre to German pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach, that wouldn’t be possible. As someone involved with EuroImprov since the early 1970s however, his ability to instantaneously sonically connect with the others shouldn’t surprise. Throughout, the drummer’s clapping crash cymbals, darkening snare slaps and panoply of drum manipulations finesses coordination among the other players.

Comparable high-gloss musicianship characterizes the others as well. Boren has played in the Bik Bent Braam and Chris Abelen large bands; Delius with Abelen, Available Jelly and the ICP; titular leader Ten Hoorn with the ICP Orchestra and her own string groups; and Evil Rabbit label co-owner Kneer with Bite the Gnatze and the Veenendaal/Kneer/Sun trio.

These multi-faceted experiences are demonstrated throughout the CD’s 13 instant compositions as individual musicians are featured on different tracks, with the lead and accompanying roles passed around democratically. “Untitled” for instance, is a showcase for the multiphonic arco inventions of Ten Hoorn which dramatically arch and curve into sul ponticello timbres. Yet the string set skirts stridency when matched with soundboard reverberations from Kaufmann, substantial plucks from Kneer and low-frequency cymbal friction from Lovens.

“Unprepared” – which is anything but – is built around the pianist’s allegro key beating and clipping, which unfold kinetically while the honking saxophone and distracted plunger trumpet circle around piano cadenzas. Here the fiddler’s high-pitched scratching become a secondary ostinato, linked with Delius’ feathery emphasis. The finale showcases Boeren progressively narrowing his air down to singular breaths and pressured mouthpiece movements.

Boeren’s back-of-throat ratcheting and Delius’ growling smears stand out in “Alone”, whose introductory passages include vibrating pizzicato actions from Kneer, firmly in the Free Jazz tradition, and scraping oscillations from Ten Hoorn. This abrasive string friction is eventually partnered with funereal-paced, nearly equal temperament patterning from Kaufmann.

If Free Jazz is referenced on “Alone”, then a variation of Hard Bop is attained on “Bravas”. Not orthodox Hard Bop of course. Here as the slippery cornet lead intersects with Kaufmann’s low-frequency syncopation Kneer’s pumping resonation skirts a relentless groove. Unfolding staccato and prestissimo, the piece allows Boren’s fired-up cornet line to be transformed into open-horn braying as Delius bites his reed and snorts a counterline. Eventually while the pianist strums encompassing connective chords in double time, Ten Hoon’s crying squeaks and stops and Boeren’s horn shakes suggest Energy Music as well as Hard Bop. The result: POMO Free Bop.

Although visuals may be lacking in this version of Play Station, there’s still enough excitement and interaction exhibited to create anticipation for Version #1.1 from the band.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Somorrostro 2. Glorie Van Holland 3. Misty 4. Unprepared 5. Alone 6. Outside Inside 7. Man with Scythe 8. Untitled 9. Majo’s Retreat 10. Bravas 11. The Black Box 12. Oliver and Cooking 13. Forgiven

Personnel: Eric Boeren (cornet); Tobias Delius (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Maartje Ten Hoorn (violin); Achim Kaufmann (piano): Meinrad Kneer (bass) and Paul Lovens (drums)