Bite the Gnatze

Good Bike Fair Wheel
Trytone TT 559-080

Adding humor to otherwise serious improvisations has never been something to avoid for particular Jazz musicians in the Netherlands – witness Misha Mengelberg, Willem Breuker and Han Bennink. But the younger players who make up Bite the Gnatze (BtG) add an understated streak of whimsy to their robust performances. The sly mockery probably originates with guitarist and banjo player Paul Pallesen who composes all of the band’s material. Yet un-self-conscious fun along with sophisticated musicianship is projected by all members of the Amsterdam-based septet and is as generic to the band as a whole as vaudeville showmanship is to Bennink’s soloing.

Some of these spirited sequences may be related to the usual high pitches propelled by the band’s reed section: clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Steven Kamperman and clarinetist Michel Duijves. Meanwhile Frank van Bommel propels celesta and harmonium textures as well as piano lines and Joost Buis plays lap steel guitar plus trombone. Bottom timbres on the other hand come from bassist Meinrad Kneer and percussionist Alan Purves. Although BtG has been together for more than two decades each of the members is involved with many other bands as leaders or sidepeople, working with such players as Julie Sassoon, Corrie van Binsbergen and Jasper Stadhouder

There may be an underlying swaying groove expressed on most of these tracks, but the output takes many forms depending on which instruments are emphasized. “Knorrepot” for instance starts off with an exaggerated gutbucket trombone slur from Buis and equivalent flossy clarinet break backed by two-beat drumming and slap-bass rhythms. Yet on “I see the world spinning round” Buis’ swift slide elaborations are thoroughly modern, while Pallesen’s string echoes, balanced by vibes slaps and reed undulations, relate more to folk music than Rock or Jazz. This sort of flexibility, coupled with tongue-in-cheek expression so that you’re never sure whether a phrase is played sardonically or seriously create a program where a motif is as likely to be as droll as it is demanding. Instances of this occur on “Sjans!” and “I met a lazy horse”, with the former divided among smirking reed bubbling, keyboard tickles, precision bangs from Purves’ kit and chunky near C&W guitar strums; and the second fragmenting a shuffle beat below skittering dual clarinet glissandi and distinctive electric keyboard twangs.

Overall the collection adds up to dancing, bouncing narratives which are harmonized enough to propel the performances forward, but filled with enough unexpected spins to confirm the band’s originality.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Knorrepot 2. Zonnetje watertje windje 3. Knock around the corner 4. From D to G to A to D 5. Sjans! 6. I see the world spinning round 7. I met a lazy horse 8. Don't mess with Miss Maison Moderne 9. Good bike Fair Wheel

Personnel: Joost Buis (trombone, lap steel guitar); Steven Kamperman (alto clarinet, soprano saxophone); Michel Duijves (clarinet, bass-clarinet); Paul Pallesen (guitar, banjo); Frank van Bommel (piano, celesta, harmonium); Meinrad Kneer (bass) and Alan Purves (drums, percussion)