Han Bennink Trio

Bennink & Co.
ILK 192 CD

Eric Boeren 4tet

Coconut

Plattenbakkerij PRO 008

Bandleader or featured sideman, Amsterdam’s Hen Bennink has a distinctive percussion style that’s instantly recognizable after a scant few rattles and thumps. This is easily affirmed on these two fine sessions.

Bennink & Co is additionally fascinating because it’s only the second release by a trio helmed by drummer, formed after almost half a century of playing in others’ ensembles, most notably the ICP Orchestra. It features two improvisers less than half the 71-year-old Bennink’s age: Danish pianist Simon Toldam and Belgian reedist Joachim Badenhorst. In his more accustomed backing – if rhythmically disruptive – role, Bennink provides the beat on Coconut. Under the leadership of cornetist Eric Boeren, who has also played with the Bik Bent Braam ensemble for a couple of decades. This quartet with its echoes of Ornette Coleman’s first band with pocket trumpeter Don Cherry and Charles Mingus’ quartet with trumpeter Ted Curson and reedist Eric Dolphy, is filled out by saxophonist/clarinetist Michael Moore, also in the ICP, as well as well as bassist Wilbert de Joode who has likely played with every major improviser in continental Europe.

This catholically in musical influences also means that both combos have a much wider frame of reference than most bands, particularly those dealing with Jazz’s earlier manifestations. For instance the reed inflections of Badenhorst, who often works with post-modernists like bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, suggest a linkage to clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s trios; while Toldam’s improvising relates to the understated variables of pianists Bill Evans and Paul Bley, Nonetheless with Bennink on board these tendencies are conflated with Swing Era references as well. Benny Goodman’s famous trio had the same clarinet-piano-drums line-up. So when Bennink’s on-the-beat slaps reference drummer Gene Krupa, he lets Toldam fill the Teddy Wilson role.

It’s the same with Boeren’s 4tet. Bennink may have the Dannie Richmond or Ed Blackwell role on Coconut’s 11 tracks, but at junctures his beat emphasis relates as much to Jo Jones or Baby Dodds, putting De Joode in the Walter Page or Israel Crosby position, with Moore sometimes channeling Goodman or Artie Shaw on clarinet. Nevertheless Moore’s saxophone playing stays resolutely modern, as does Boeren’s work, despite the cornetist playing Classic Jazz’s favorite horn. Still the piping-hot tremolo interaction that the quartet members demonstrate on “Shake Your Wattle” [sic] could slip into a Chicago-style or Dixieland session with no one the wiser.

On his CD, Boeren telegraphs his personnel hierarchy by including two Coleman tunes and one by Booker Little – who co-lead a band with Dolphy in 1961 – on the disc. Even more transparent is the program of Bennink’s trio. Among the 12 tracks, mostly consisting of group improvisations and spiky po-mo originals by Badenhorst and Toldam, are warhorses like Friedman and Whitson’s “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” and Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lonesome Thing”.

Taking these as jumping-off points, notice how the Strayhorn standard is approached backwards, from improvisations to the theme, with sliding and juddering lines from the reedist, tremolo passages from the pianist and such stentorian control from Bennink that his smacks and ruffs appear to move from one side of the sound field to the other. Ultimately after Badenhorst plays the familiar head, his glissandi are challenged by the drummer’s bell shaking and snare pops. Similarly Bennink’s ratcheting sprawls and rat-tat-tats defiantly disrupt the reading of the Friedman-Whitson tune as the other two cohesively spin out its moderated line.

Radical deconstruction isn’t reserved for mainstream fare however. On the Badenhorst composed “Ganz”, for instance, the drummer adds a furious display of pre-modern syncopated clanks and clunks to complement the clarinetist’s irregular vibrato and flutter-tongued note popping that is decidedly 21st Century, while Toldam galloping comping advances the theme. In the same way, the reedist’s impelled puffs and aviary split tones plus the drummer’s ruffs and smacks create a contrapuntal challenge to the pianist on the reflective “Dog”. Defying the other two with thicker chord patterns and note clumps Toldam manages to bypass their sonic traps to recap his melody by the finale.

On the other CD, having devoted part of his time since 1995 to re-interpreting Coleman’s music with De Joode, Boeren has no problem lovingly deconstructing it here. Moving past the happy, up-tempo head of “Joy of A Toy” for example, the cornetist builds his solo out of rubbery brays, while Moore contributes cyclical obbligatos. At the same time Bennink breaks up the time with ruffs and rim-shot clatters. “Little Symphony” follows a similar pattern, although here the staccato exposition played by unison horns survives a subsequent detour into dual flutter-tonguing plus the drummer’s brush raps plus timbre shattering. On the other hand Little’s “BeeTee’s Minor Plea” comes across as a straightforward blues line, build on buzzing, capillary notes from the brass man and hand heel-slaps plus a bowed counter line from the bassist.

Other tracks create their own identities but speak to different currents of the Jazz tradition. There’s a jittery Latin feel to “Journal” with an impressive pumping solo from De Joode, plus a half-shuffle/half-martial beat from Bennink. Some of the remaining tunes take on a loose Count Basie small band Swing feel, especially with an emphasis on Boeren’s muted grace notes and slithery passages from Moore’s clarinet.

Overall the most impressive romp is “What Happened at Conway Hall, 1938” – could composer Boeren be referring to Lord Thomas Jeeves Horder’s lecture on Obscurantism from that year? Ignoring the unanswered question, the piece sashays back and forth between Swing to the New Thing, with Moore’s slithery textures resembling those of Dolphy, Coleman and John Handy at various times; while De Joode discordantly slaps and scrapes his strings; the composer contributes plunger triplet; and Bennink’s contrapuntal cymbal clattering, climaxes with a fortissimo pop to signal the ending.

Despite moving into his eighth decade, Bennink evidently still has plenty to contribute rhythmically and sonically. And on the evidence of these two CDs he has plenty of confreres to aid him continue making high-quality jazz.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Coconut: 1. Coconut 2. What Happened at Conway Hall, 1938? 3. Shake Your Wattle 4. The Fish in the Pond 5. Little Symphony 6. & 7. Crunchy Croci 8. Padàm 9. Joy of A Toy 10. Journal 11. BeeTee’s Minor Plea

Personnel: Coconut: Eric Boeren (cornet); Michael Moore (alto saxophone and clarinets); Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Han Bennink (percussion)

Track Listing: Bennink: 1. Klein Gebrek Geen Bezwaar 2. Sim March 3. Suite in a Sea 4. Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland 5. Dog 6. Laurens S. D.7. Inside Inside 8. Ganz 9. Klein Gebrek Geen Bezwaar No. 2 10. Kiefer 11. Postlude to Kiefer and a Piece of Drum 12. A Flower Is a Lonesome Thing

Personnel: Bennink: Joachim Badenhorst (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet); Simon Toldam (piano) and Han Bennink (drums)