Festival Report:

dOek's 10th Anniversary
By Ken Waxman

Unexpectedly but appropriately, Sean Bergin tenor saxophonist and tour-guide-for-the-day, added an extra stop to an afternoon bus tour of selected jazz clubs during Amsterdam’s 10th anniversary dOeK festival April 21-22. In front of a construction site on a narrow street beside a canal, which from 1974-2005 been home to the Bimhuis, the South African-born Bergin passed out noise-makers and lead the participants in a brief fanfare celebrating ground zero for advanced Dutch sounds,

The salute was doubly significant. Not only was that location progenitor of the spacious, soft-seated, harbor-front location of the new Bimhuis in which the two-day festival took place, but long-time Amsterdam resident Bergin, who during the bus journey entertained with quirky songs and stories about the city’s musical history while playing saxophone, penny-whistle and ukulele, is a representative of the foreign improvisers who have contributed to the city’s musical gestalt over the years.

Organized as a non-profit foundation promoting improvisation in the Netherlands, dOek’s global reach was emphasized during the fest with concerts that featured American, German and Australian musicians playing alongside their Dutch counterparts.

One of the most significant was WoKaLi that melded the verbalized whinnies, mumbles and rapid lip motions of local trombonist Wolter Wierbos, with the crisp, heel-of-hand key palming of pianist Achim Kaufmann and the hyperactive, irregular rhythms produced by vibrating tambourines, crumbling foil and slapping hard objects on drum heads from Christian Lillinger, both from Berlin. A staccato climax was reached as Wierbos’ slurs turned to tongue-grinds as the drummer beat on the hi-hat with a stick, while press-rolling as Kaufmann’s cascades kept the theme cohesive.

Oddly there was no piano present during the set by The Gap, a sextet organized by dOeK founding member Cor Fuhler, who has relocated to Sydney. Usually a keyboardist, Fuhler played guitar instead and was backed by Germans Axel Dörner on slide-trumpet and Jan Roder on bass; another dOeK founder, who now live in Berlin, reedist Tobias Delius; plus two Aussies: percussionist Steve Heather and vibraphonist Dale Gorfinkel, whose kinetic sound and light sculptures were on display on another floor of the Bimhuis. A suite of Fuhler-composed, airy, connected miniatures the pieces depended as much on Gorfinkel’s four-mallet rubs and slides on the metal bars and Heather’s soft, sensitive brush work. Ironically despite the Ur-modernist playing of Dörner, whose distanced breaths often seemed to leak back into his horn, the taunt voicing of vibes, guitar and Delius’ simple, flat-line clarinet could have been that of Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman in the ’30s.

A more assertive bass-and-percussion team of dOeker, Amsterdam’s Wilbert de Joode and Chicago’s Hamid Drake demonstrated contemporary Dutch-American, with The Now quartet, with the front-line similarly divided between American flutist Nicole Mitchell and saxophonist Peter van Bergen from the Netherlands. That’s divided only in nationality, for the players are equally proficient in mixing multiphonics, minimalism and mellowness. Drake’s frame-drum rubs and occasional reggae backbeats didn’t prevent him from preserving a press-roll-and-rim-shot jazz pulse, while no matter how many bass face scratches or vibrating buzzes de Joode emphasized in solos, his sturdy walking was omnipresent. Meantime Mitchell matched lyrical glissandi with rougher piccolo tweets, while van Bergen moves between near New music spaciousness and mellow near-blues. Most notably cooperation is more notable as the flute, tenor saxophone and bass hold a single note between them as Drake decorates the background with hand drum pops.

A stirring Dutch-dOeK variant on another jazz style, the Tough Tenor tradition of the ‘40s and ‘50s was apparent at two funky, performance spaces during the afternoon club tour. At Kwikfiets, a combination café, art gallery and bicycle repair shop [!], reedist Ab Baars went mano-a-mano with Brazilian-born Yedo Gibson, backed by Finnish guitarist Mikael Szafirowski and drummer Gerri Jäger. Meanwhile at OT301, the former Netherlands Film Academy, now a club space with a bar and vegan restaurant, contrasting tenor saxophone stylists American John Dikeman, a dOeK member, and Delius were set off by Wierbos’ trombone.

Playing mostly Baars’ tunes, whose Dutch titles were humorously mispronounced by Gibson, the two tenors’ styles were distinctive even playing in lockstep. In steady rolling fashion the Brazilian’s snickering freak tomes encompassed reed bites and tongue stops, while the other played mid-range, excepting sporadic altissimo leaps. With Baars on clarinet, shaggy group harmonies approximated those of Tim Berne’s recent bands, especially when Szafirowski alternated finger slides and slashing distortion as the drummer produced unique rhythms, smacking wood blocks or bouncing bound straw on drum tops. Sticking to tradition, the band also alluded to Monk, Trane, “Lullaby of Birdland” and the blues.

So did Dikeman, Delius, and Wierbos. Sometimes in fact the trombonist’s cup-muted growls and Delius’ spacious vibrato sounded like they migrated from a foot-tapping Swing Era jam session even though the rhythm section included synthesizer and electric bass. Still the chief attraction was a rugged power engendered by the two tenor saxophonists. Playing originals ranging from approximation of gentle ballads to rocking bar-room stompers, the two, like Baars, Gibson and any number of other Amsterdam players maintained distinctive identities. In contrast to Delius’ studied classicism, Dikeman appeared comfortably wedded to an extension of Energy Music.

And if Energy Music was needed there was no better example than the sextet’s first tune, appropriately a kwela-influenced piece composed and recorded by Begin a few years ago. A go-for-broke workout, the dynamic performance combined a joyous African melody, staccato rhythm that were half Cape Town and half Chicago and snapping solos whose feeling for blues, jazz and the indefinable other went a long way towards defining the sounds that characterized the important anniversary of this festival.

—For New York City Jazz Record June 2012