February 1, 2010
Han Bennink Trio
ILK 156 CD
Drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Megelberg have been the odd couple of improvised music in the Netherlands for a half century. Stalwarts of Amsterdam’s long-constituted ICP Orchestra for almost that long, they have also been affiliated in a variety of bands with many estimable improvisers from both sides of the Atlantic. Still, the drummer and pianist are the classic confirmation of the expression opposites attracts.
Isolating one from the other as part of a trio as these CDs do, is more fascinating still. That’s because the discs put in boldest relief the individual qualities which combine to make up their particular partnership. Parken, recorded with two players less than half his age, offers Bennink, 67, full range for his kinetic, vigorous and sometimes bombastic percussion styling. Meanwhile Sliptong matches the indolent and lethargic keyboard patterns of Mengelberg, 74, with the sophisticated invention of two veteran improvisers.
On this session Mengelberg’s claims to be lazy and unprepared are negated as he imaginatively creates split-second responses to the scrubbed spiccato runs or sawing glissandi of violist Ig Henneman and/or the wavering slurs or altissimo squeaks on tenor saxophone, clarinet or shakuhachi from Ab Baars. While the reedist is a long-time member of the ICP Orchestra, the fiddler performs in a duo with Baars when not busy with other projects such as the otherwise all-Canadian Queen Mab trio. Facing this unanticipated dual onslaught, the pianist’s usual matter-of-fact comping turns to crackling angularity, with his cadences reflecting the Stride patterning that influenced his mentors such as Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk and, before that, Duke Ellington.
On the title track for instance, he uses pedal pressure and high-frequency cross- hand dynamics to accelerate in circular motions as Henneman shudders her strings with a sul ponticello rasp that reach ear-wrenching intensity while the saxophonist flat-lines distant reed breaths.
More instructive are how the trio approaches the congruent “Zee-engel” and “Is that Solly?” Surprisingly melodic on the former – which translates as angel shark – the pianist’s largo comments are still intermittent. He voices an occasional set of notes and then withdraws, leaving most of the space for the others. Baars’ false fingering on clarinet is distinctive as he manages the feat of pitching his notes higher than altissimo without ever becoming screechy. Henneman offers extended portamento, while Mengelberg balances the instant composition with methodical syncopation.
During the development of “Is that Solly?” – honoree unknown – Mengelberg is sufficiently aroused to clip-clop, pitter-patter and thump the keys, kinetically echoing the atonality of Monk and Cecil Taylor in his discursive strategy. This is in response to the violinist’s initial flying staccato and leads to Baars abandoning his smooth Ben Webster-like tenor lines for Aylerian squeaks and widely vibrated split tones. As Baars’ squeals and honks intertwine with Henneman’s whistling and sliding timbres, the keyboard trickster takes on a mainstream – for him – persona and outlines their dissonance with a largo and andante ending.
Bennink’s trickster persona and multi-percussion personalities are also on show on Parken. Eerily echoing the drummer’s long-time piano confrere, not only does Simon Toldam, the 27-year-old Danish keyboardist throw in the occasional Monkish runs, but the only non-group compositions played are by Duke Ellington or the Duke’s second-in-command, Billy Strayhorn.
Bennink – who worked with Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin as well as Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann – has the same sort of grasp of jazz history as Mengelberg, and isn’t afraid to show it. Consequently Toldam’s “Music for Camping” features passages that suggest the Benny Goodman Trio. Belgian clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst appropriates the melodic and undulating textures of Goodman, Toldam the cascading, undulating runs of Teddy Wilson and Bennink becomes Gene Krupa. Of course his faux Krupa is even showier than the original with ruffs, cymbals pops and drags speeding up the tempo after he proves his Swing styling with modest brush work and nerve beats. Still, when the pianist introduces a Boppier, arpeggio-laden line, Bennink bluntly and purposely turns to strokes and rebounds.
The three offer a sympathetic reading of “Fleurette Africane”, which Ellington famously recorded in a trio with Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Adding a reed part, Badenhorst trills somewhat squeakily; Toldam sympathetically vibrates his keys and Bennink is as steady as any Bop time-keeper, restraining himself to the occasional pop and smack.
Much more notable is a reading of Ellington-Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”, initially recorded by the entire Ellington orchestra. Simultaneously reverent and radical, the voicing and coloring are changed without perverting the thematic core. Providing variations before the theme, Toldam extends the unfolding performance with spiky chording, polyrhythms and close harmonies as Badenhorst trills lyrically on clarinet and Bennink rumbles and ruffs. When the familiar theme finally appears it grows organically from the preceding measures and is constructed out of piano glissandi and tongue-fluttering vibrations from the clarinetist.
If Parken does have a downside it’s the title track, that unconventionally but appropriately appears at the end. Qarin Wikström appears to sing in English. While “Parken” may demonstrate Bennink’s talent as a straight-ahead accompanist, it detracts from the session itself.
Antwerp-native Badenhorst now divides his time between Belgium and New York, so whether this session marks a beginning or a one-off is up in the air. Certainly it’s a fine indication of Bennink’s percussion skills away from the ICP Orchestra and the more frantic trappings of the avant garde. On the other hand, Since Henneman, Baars and Mengelberg all live in Amsterdam, Sliptong can be repeated.
Right now though both CDs are memorable contributions to each of the pianist’s and the drummer’s recorded canons.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Sliptong: 1. Leng 2. Sliptong 3. Mizu-iro 4. Fishwalk 5. Zee-engel 6. Is that Solly? 7. Misha started whistling 8. Oystercatchers
Personnel: Sliptong: Ab Baars (clarinet, tenor saxophone and shakuhachi); Ig Henneman (viola) and Misha Mengelberg (piano)
Track Listing: Parken: 1. Music for Camping 2. Flemische March 3. Lady of the Lavender Mist 4. Myckewelk 5. Isfahan 6. Reedeater 7. Fleurette Africane 8. After the March 9. Parken
Personnel: Parken: Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet and bass clarinet); Simon Toldam (piano) and Han Bennink (drums)