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Lest We Forget
Willem Breuker (1944-2010)
By Ken Waxman
The blend of anarchism, precision and humor suggested by Willem Breuker Kollektief (WBK), the name of the ensemble the Dutch saxophonist/composer led for 36 years until his death from lung cancer on July 23, 2010, underlined the fascinating contradictions in his music. A collective has everyone on equal footing no matter how skilled, yet this Kollektief had Breuker as the undisputed boss of a group of first-class soloists. Furthermore the sly joke in this wordplay was also reflected in the WBK’s on-stage horseplay. Breuker not only ensured that the unmistakable modern jazz played included themes by notated composers such as Kurt Weill and George Gershwin, but also a large helping of physical and instrumental comedy that might culminate in the vocalizing of a ’20 ditty like “Yes We Have No Bananas”.
Amsterdam-born on November 4, 1944, Breuker, who usually played tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, had established himself as a free jazz player par excellence before he was 25. In 1967, he, drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg founded the Instant Composers Pool (ICP), and he worked with variations of that group until 1973. However Breuker was never committed to any single project. Even before he acrimoniously split with the ICP in 1973 to form the WBK, he had already been featured on three European free jazz classics. He, alongside tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, was part of pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s first Globe Unity disc in 1966; he, plus saxophonist Evan Parker is on Brötzmann’s Machine Gun from 1968; and vibist/bass clarinetist Günter Hampel’s The 8th of July 1969 had him matching wits with multi-reedist Anthony Braxton.
Later on the 10-piece WBK gave Breuker the scope to feature his own musical ideas, over the years utilizing the talents of star sidemen such as trumpeters Andy Altenfelder and Boy Raaymakers, trombonist Bernard Hunnekink, saxophonist André Goudbeek, bassist Arjen Gorter and vocalists Loes Luca and Greetje Bijma. Besides writing music specifically for the band members, who in many cases remained with the ensemble for years, some of Breuker’s more than 500 compositions were designed as theatre, opera or film scores, written for brass bands, chamber music ensembles, fanfare or symphony orchestras, and even for carillons or barrel organs. Starting in the ‘60s he organized improvised music workshops wherever he toured; and from 1977 to 2005 curated an Amsterdam music festival. In short, Breuker was involved in so many projects and created so much music on his own and with the WBK, that listening to even a wide selection of his discs only roughly approximates the extent of his talents.
--For New York City Jazz Record October 2012
October 7, 2012
Guus Janssen and his Orchestra
Zeeland Suite & Johnny Rep Suite
By Ken Waxman
May 30, 2005
Mythmaking abounds in improvised music as much in European free sounds as in American jazz after all, this genre has been the romantic music for more than 100 years.
Sadly, empirical research can reinterpret many of those fables as efficiently as it demythologizes other subjects. This brings up the tales of anarchistic Dutch jazz/free music. Since the majority of jazz fans i.e. North Americans didnt start to pay attention to the Netherlands until late 1980s, it appeared as if the mixture of zany humor and serious musicianship that characterized high-profile aggregations like the ICP Orchestra and Willem Breukers Kollektief (WBK) was a universal concept. Later bands lead by composers like pianists Guus Janssen and Michel Braam seemed to confirm this.
In truth New Dutch Swing, as some call it, was the result of a painstaking musical process that matched the natural Calvinism of the Netherlands with provocations from American Free Jazz and the 1960s New Left. Simultaneously, Europeans had to evolve past their American musical models and sound pastiches to spin political instigation, Energy Music and 20th Century, so-called classical music into something original.
This involved a lot more than a single Eureka! moment, and you can trace this hit-and-miss evolution on the two CDs reissued here. Pianist Leo Cupyers, one of Breukers closest initial associates and co-founder of the Bvhaast label, reflects the growth pains of this maturing style in two landmark suites, recorded in 1974 and 1977 by similarly constituted septets. A generation younger, Janssens Dancing Series, recorded with an 11-piece ensemble in 1988, shows how this bravura procedure evolved and eventually intersected with assorted other sounds.
Just as the orchestral voicings of Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk hung over early New Thing advances, so, in a way, both these sessions pay homage to the ideas of both the WBK and the ICPs chief conceptualizer Misha Mengelberg. Until he had a spat with Breuker, Cupyers was part of the WBK from its conception until 1979. Thus its no surprise to find Breuker, performing sideman duties featured on all tracks but two on the CD. Janssen, who has developed a parallel career as a so-called serious composer in the Netherlands, first had his talent confirmed by Mengelberg, with whom he studied in the 1970s. In fact, with its mixture of styles and jump cuts from one genre to another Dancing Series sound a bit like Mengelbergs and Breukers earlier, more anarchistic compositions, not to mention John Zorns POMO pastiches, recorded around the same time.
From 1974, Johnny Rep Suite, the earliest tracks here, finds Cupyers leading a mostly WBK crew with the one ringer tenor saxophonist Hans Dulfer Candys father who doesnt solo at all. The four tunes include a soccer anthem, driven by drummer Rob Verdurmen, plus other pieces that have more in common with American Free Jazz than the composer probably realized at the time. Most instructive are Floris & Rosa, Kirk and Rank Jump which join irregularly vibrated energy explosions with call-and-response reed lines and vocal screams. Mixing a faint flamenco beat and what sounds like The Volga Boatman into his solo on the second number, the pianist has to put up with a heavy drum backbeat and Breuker trying to emulate Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing two saxes at once. Sadly, unlike Kirk, he merely plays the theme on one sax and honks with the other.
Two humans playing one sax each Breuker and altoist Piet Noordijk fire trilling vamps and buzzing tongue flutters in broken octaves at one another on Rank Jump. Together they sound like what would have resulted if Ornette Coleman and one of his primary duplicators, say Byron Allen, had recorded together. Meanwhile Dufler and trombonist Willem van Manen expel the Netherlands version of circus sounds.
Only Cuypers is clearly his own man, with a Monkish piano exploration that includes pedal pumping and speed skating over the keys. A concluding duo with the drummer confirms this individualism, as he matches Verdurmens crashing cymbals with prepared piano-like action, soundboard string scratches and drumming on his instruments sides.
More audacious is the nine-part Zeeland Suite recorded three years later with mostly the same cast. The only changes are Martin van Duynhoven in for Verdurmen; Noordijk and Dulfer replaced by Bob Driessen on soprano, alto and baritone saxophones; and South African Harry Miller adding his bass to that of longtime WBK bull fiddler Arjen Gorter.
Both bassists are showcased on Two bass shit (sic), though the constantly hardening walking bass lines border on the Swing Era as much as the bebop tune parodied in the title. Cuypers piano voicing, set against the horn vamps brings up memories of Count Basie, not Bud Powell.
Enjoyable on the whole, Zeeland Suites one shortcoming is its constant musical shifts. A piece like Memories for instance, ratchets from mid-tempo Swing with Breukers bass clarinet in the lead, to a Phil Whitemanesque sweet ballad, to a finale that finds the reedist mocking the excesses of Energy Music, fragmenting his solo with body tube trilling and scratchy growls.
Intentional or not Something else cross breeds slick movie studio jazz with a feature for the bone man where he mixes bebops speed with pre-modern coloration. Despite its title as well, Joplin is more Boogie than Ragtime with the pianist twisting out two handed bass lines and one of the saxmen likely Breuker using a dike-wide vibrato in a frenzied Illinois Jacquet homage. No plooi at all Blues is a cocktail lounge blues with the pianists licks more Floyd Cramer than Big Maceo Merriweather. Supplemental, almost-corny plunger tones from van Manen and a soprano sax solo that conjures up a vision of Sidney Bechet in a Nudie cowboy suit are added on top.
Then theres the take on the classics a long-standing WBK jape entitled Bach II and Bach I. This gives the pianist scope to burlesque Baroque inventions and, before the sped-up tune ends with a contrapuntal dissolve, both soprano saxists build fruity glissandi to a double-tongued line mid-way between Rhapsody in Blue and a whine.
Even so, Cuypers own compositions like Mengelbergs and Breukers congruent attempts sometimes end up more like Frankensteins monster than breakthrough experiments. But you can certainly praise him for musical audacity. By the time Dancing Series was recorded a decade later, POMO pastiche was expected as a matter of course from advanced bands from the Netherlands. In his case then, its a tribute to Janssen that some of his pieces sound as original as they do.
Using an expanded palate, the pianist has four orchestral sections at his disposal. Trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and hornist Vincent Chancey made up the brass section. Ab Baars on soprano and tenor saxophones and clarinet plus alto saxophonist Paul Termos are the reeds. Violist Maurice Horsthuis, cellist Ernst Reijseger and bassist Raoul van der Weide are the string contingent. Added are former ProgRocker Jacques Palinckx on guitar and Janssens brother Wim on percussion.
Janssens compositions also apportion more solo space than WBK or ICP numbers do, and the trombonist and alto saxist make the most of it. Best-know for his work with the ICP, Wierbos brings a distinctive primitivist-modern style to his outings. While Termos (1952-2003), who died of pancreatic cancer, was a longtime associate of Janssen, hes mainly known as a notated chamber composer. Here, nonetheless, he plays whatever part is necessary to elevate the tune.
Consider and contrast JoJo Jive and Mambo for instance. On the former, the 11-pieces get a polyphonic sound not unlike Duke Ellingtons early Jungle band, most obviously borne on Wierbos tailgating trombone and in Baars spiky solos. Even though theres a similarity between this tune and East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Janssen himself like his mentor Mengelberg solos with more modernist Monk-Nichols inflections, themselves extensions of Ellingtonia. Complementing these piles of ringing reed cadences and two-handed, flashing arpeggios are Termos alto sounding like a florid and smooth Johnny Hodges until he too initiates reed squirts and duck quacks.
Before the horse whinnying trombone coda, the entire horn section vamps, van der Weide slaps his bass like Pops Foster, the drummer produces heavy bass drum accents and snare tap dances, while the pianist breaks up the time.
If this piece sounds like Paul Whiteman at his loosest an admitted influence on Cupyers and Breuker as well then Mambo could be right out of Perez Prados book. With Termos coming on like the lead player with Machito and Wim Janssen hitting his cowbell and applying friction to other Latin percussion, the rest of band vocalizes Indian war whoops and ersatz Spanish interjections.
On top of a shifting rhythm, Termos extends his solo in double-time. Of course the rub and rattle of the percussion and the vamping call-and-response in double or triple counterpoint from the sections dont mask the tunes POMO characteristics. Janssen for one, melds allegro rhythmic vibrations and a right-handed, Latinesque melody thats as Monkish as it is montuno. Leaping gnome-like over the keys, he pumps the beat more rapidly, racing along the keys from the very highest level to the lowest.
Although at almost 12½ minutes, the performance is overlong, Janssen maintains excitement in its penultimate minutes by banging conga-like on the wood of the pianos back and bottom frame, soundboard and trusses, an emulated? technique favored by Cuypers as well. Finale is a thematic reprise by the pianist followed by rest of band, climaxed with a high-pitched flourish from all concerned.
Elsewhere the orchestrations are organized to produce versions of everything from a weaving fox trot to two versions of punk rockers leaping pogo dance, with most tunes the musical equivalents of cinematic film cuts, replete with many false climaxes. Janssen also isnt afraid to expose other band members talents, often playing off different sections and pressing contrapuntal lines against one another. Palinckxs distorted flanging has as much prominence at one point as the Horsthuis-lead collated strings sounding out a legato melody do at another. Former Arkestra-member Chancey has scope for his burnished tone, but most of the other oral oscillations include reed and brass mouthpiece kisses, braying trombone timbres, trumpet triplets and quaking reed lines.
To boot, the pianist, whose own output includes knuckle-dusting high frequency action, isnt averse to compositionally exploiting the false fingering and ghosts tones of the horns as well as the sul tasto, sul ponticello and just plain instrument rib and belly scratching actions of his string players.
In hindsight, though, Dancing Series weakness is that by 1988 these pastiches were usually predictable in most Netherlands improv sessions, with Cuypers hit-and-miss creations replaced by POMO professionalism. Perhaps that why younger Dutch players are now exploring pure swing, electronica and formal composition.
Still both these discs are valuable souvenirs of and contain memorable sounds from two specifically historical musical times and places.
May 30, 2005
Atavistic Unheard Music UMS/ALP 232CD
ALEXANDER VON SCHLIPPENBACH
The Living Music
Atavistic Unheard Music UMS/ALP 231CD
Multi-reedman Peter Brötzmann always insists that when pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and trumpeter Manfred Schoof first heard his pioneering free jazz band in the mid-1960s they just laughed their asses off. At that time they played the Horace Silver-style thing. But, by the end of the decade as Brötzmann widened his circle to include other experimenters like Dutch drummer Han Bennink and worked with American jazzers like trumpeter Don Cherry and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, his fellow Germans began to come around as well.
They began to come around to such an extent that by 1969 Schlippenbach and Schoof were recording the outside session showcased on these discs, both of which featured international casts, definitely including Brötzmann and Bennink. Since that time the pianist has maintained his free jazz affiliation, most notably in a long-running trio with British saxophonist Evan Parker, who is also on EUROPEAN ECHOES. The trumpeter, on the other hand, sticks more to a mainstream style, when he isnt writing and playing contemporary classical music.
Recorded first THE LIVING MUSIC was an indirect nod to Julian Becks experimental Living Theater group that had recently set up shop in Europe. It was also a smaller-sized version of Schlippenbachs on-again-off-again-massive Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO), with British trombonist Paul Rutherford and Bennink joining the five Germans players.
In a way its those two, as well as Brötzmann, who are most impressive on this session. The trombonist who had already worked with Londons Spontaneous Music Ensemble and GUO and would go on to play throughout Europe, is credited with the invention of trombone multiphonics. Here his avant-gutbucket tone intertwines among the other instruments, stylistically neighing in his way like Tricky Sam Nanton did with Duke Ellingtons band. Using what sound like a regular kit expanded with a marimba, a thumb piano, a massive Oriental gong and who knows what else, Bennink has more percussion on hand than Ellingtons flashy Sony Greer ever had.
Like Greer, he uses it judiciously, however, smashing, banging and thumping enough to bring the discordant darker toned instruments together. At times, though, when the pianist attacks the keyboard with particular ferocity, Bennink become even more bellicose, becoming Sunny Murray to Schlippenbachs Cecil Taylor.
However, since he began playing professionally almost at the same time as CT, Schlippenbach is more a Thelonious Monk man. As a matter of fact, his introductory solo on Tower has a pianistic conception thats definitely Monk-like. Furthermore, despite Brötzs overblowing -- no Charlie Rouse he -- and Benninks relentless pounding, the pianists nearly 11½-minute composition sounds like one of the tunes recorded by those mid-sized Monk ensembles.
Schlippenbachs cadences and arpeggios are less adventurous elsewhere, especially when Schoof, on cornet, takes the lead. Influenced at that time as much by Ted Curson and other freeboppers as Cherry, the brassmans Wave suggests The Jazz Messengers playing Ornette Coleman. Vying with swinging, foreground percussion, Schoofs solo is all flourishes, fanfares and note building, facing counterpoint from the saxophone section and Rutherfords smeared lines. Elsewhere, the British brassman combines with Bennink for exercises in free march time and otherwise -- perhaps aided by Niebergalls little-heard bass trombone -- stacks up against the buzzing saxophones and relentless percussion with elongated tones that sometimes sound like the braying of animals.
Throughout, Brötzmann is a holy terror, pumping out notes as if from a machine gun and asserting himself more than anyone else. On one occasion he explodes into a cappella multiphonics, then works his way down his horn, tossing out variations on the theme as he goes along. Although as part of the Schoof Quintet and later on with his own band and work with Lacy, Luxembourg-resident Michel Pilz would be quite well known, hes oddly reticent here. Only on the cornettists Stan-Kenton-meets-Don-Cherry arrangement of Past Time do his tart clarinet tone make any impression.
On the other hand, nearly every one of the 16 musicians present gets some solo space on EUROPEAN ECHOES, another of Atavistics FMP Archive Edition, recorded two months after Schlippenbachs CD under Schoof nominal leadership.
It seems nominal because a soon a the fist drum beats echo through the studio, by means of the dual percussion of Bennink and Swiss drummer Pierre Favre, its obvious that this almost 32-minute composition is going to be some wild ride. Appropriately named, the disc features all the player on the first CD save Pilz plus Parker and German tenorist Gerd Dudek on saxophones; Italian Enrico Rava and Dane Hugh Steinmetz on trumpets; Fred Van Hove from Belgium and Irène Schweizer from Switzerland on pianos; British guitarist Derek Bailey and bassists Peter Kowald from Germany and Arjen Gorter from Holland.
With the examples of controlled chaos that other large ensembles like New Yorks The Jazz Composers Orchestra, GUO and Brötzmanns Machine-Gun band already created, this disc is most valuable providing aural views of important EuroImprovisers early in their career. Diffident Bailey, for instance, creates some wild, almost rock-oriented electric picking here with such vigor that it overwhelms the dual drummers. A far cry from his present persona as a balladeer, Rava produces some brassy, Don Ayler-like shakes. Meanwhile the triple keyboardists seem to be reconstituted as Cecil Taylor triplets, although during the course of the piece, one -- likely Schweizer -- offers up some inside piano harp glisses, along the lines for which she would later be better known.
Another small big band session that may have been on everyones mind at the time was John Coltranes less-than-five-years-old ASCENSION. Facing off against one another with cymbals and snares, flams, press rolls and march beats, Favre and Bennink are no Rich vs. Roach but suggest Elvin Jones times two. Additionally, some of the piano chording relates more to McCoy Tyners work with Trane than Taylors. All three trumpeters appear to be trying to see who can squeal the highest in bugle range as the theme is elaborated, though the plucked bass parts -- when they surface from the din -- may be more advanced than what Art Davis and Jimmy Garrison played on ADSCENSION. Dudek, Parker Brötzmann too generate enough screaming split tones to match Tranes, Archie Shepps and Pharoah Sanders multiphonics on ASCENSION, often spitting out several bent notes simultaneously. Finally, as musical shards explode all over like bombs at an anarchist rally, the massed ferment builds to a combative crescendo, ending with the sustained single cymbal echo.
Too young or distanced to have experienced the excitement of 1960s Free Jazz? These two discs are the next best thing to being there.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: European: 1. European Echoes Part 1 2. European Echoes Part 2
Personnel: European: Manfred Schoof, Enrico Rava, Hugh Steinmetz (trumpets); Paul Rutherford (trombone); Peter Brötzmann, Gerd Dudek (tenor saxophones); Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophone); Alexander Von Schlippenbach; Fred Van Hove, Irène Schweizer (pianos); Derek Bailey (guitar); Peter Kowald, Arjen Gorter (basses); Buschi Niebergall (bass and bass trombone); Han Bennink, Pierre Favre (drums)
Track Listing: Living: 1. The living music 2. Into the Staggerin 3. Wave 4. Tower 5. Lollopalooza 6. Past time
Personnel: Living; Manfred Schoof (cornet and flugelhorn); Paul Rutherford (trombone); Peter Brötzmann (tenor and baritone saxophones); Michel Pilz (bass clarinet and baritone saxophone); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano and percussion); J.B. Niebergall (bass and bass trombone); Han Bennink (drums and percussion)
December 16, 2002
WILLEM BREUKER KOLLEKTIEF
Bvhaast CD 0204
Twenty-eight years after its organization, it appears as if there are rote expectations that must be met with every CD and live performance by the Willem Breuker Kollektief (WBK). The program, it seems, must include some thematic orchestral pastiche composed and arranged by leader Breuker, with space left for the bands main jazz soloists, including himself; there has to be a rearrangement of a famous or obscure pop song; some early so-called classical piece must be recast; and space should be left for a tongue-in-cheek vocal (in English) by Breuker himself.
MISERY fills the bill. Its just amazing how, after all these years, the formula still works.
Of course the WBK of 2002 shouldnt be confused with the saxophonists earliest, more anarchistic bands or his even-earlier career as a freelance free jazz firebrand whose saxophone playing ignited many a Continental improv session. No, todays WBK is above all a reading band, able to take in anyones score at a glance and immediately turn the music on paper into note-perfect, swinging section work, sort of the way bands like Jimmy Luncefords and Tommy Dorseys would pride themselves on doing during the Swing Era.
There are questions about the material as well. Are certain tunes included because Breuker is mocking them; or does he too share a guilty pleasure in a well-played melody with his longtime followers? As for the original material, its as theatrical as always, rife with distinct harmonies, structural principles and direct quotes from other sources. Yet there is such an extensive Kollektief repertoire now, some of it frequently revived and reorchestrated, that compositions appear as set pieces within a program, rather than standalone creations.
You could say that about the soloists as well. In truth, the most accomplished are trumpeter Boy Raaymakers, bassist Arjen Gorter and Breuker himself, all grizzled veterans of the so-called Golden Era of Free Jazz. However when anyone steps forward --as happens on I Remember April and Hulpverkrabber 911, the CDs two longest pieces -- youre reminded of the members of those little bands within the big bands like Artie Shaws Gramercy Five, Dorseys Clambake Seven or Bob Crosbys The Bobcats. Each soloist exhibits his specialty rather than advancing the piece at hand.
April is illustrative in itself, as it mixes that ballad with snatches of the lesser-known Senza Parole. Theres a steady jazz beat from the rhythm section -- all cymbals and snares -- plus pounding bass lines mixed with some cheesy roller rink organ heavy on the tremolos played by Henk de Jonge. Finally, theres a full orchestra transition that brings to mind tuxedo wearing hotel bands in 1930s Hollywood musicals. Minor trilling and note chasing characterize some of Martin van Nordens tenor saxophone solo, but theres not much in it that Zoot Sims wouldnt have played in 1956. Andrew Bruces trombone feature is all slick pre-modern splashes and smears. While Gorters short turn relates more to Paul Chambers-style time keeping than anything he himself was doing in the 1960s. Still if it wasnt for his beat and drummer Rob Verdurmens rhythmic command the whole thing would ground to a halt midway when Hermine Deurloo toots out some amateurish harmonica tones. Lets just say that neither Toots Thielemans nor James Cotton is losing any sleep this year.
A recent Breuker composition Hulpverkrabber sounds better, even though the composer or band members seem not to have made a final decision on its lineage. Featuring aural suggestions of fire bells and freight trains on one hand and waltzes and fanfares on the other, it drifts between earnest and parody. Stomping section parts with European pseudo-Oriental timbres resemble those played Paul Whitemans orchestra in the 1920s as much as Duke Ellingtons Jungle band classics. And a sped-up variation on Charles Mingus Boogie Stop Shuffle peers in and out of the arrangement as a leitmotif. While Raaymakers and section mate Andy Altenfelder may be spearing high notes as Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams used to do for Ellington, the slurping sax section sounds as if it just wandered over from Guy Lombardos sweetest band this side of heaven. Then before Verdurmen ends everything with a Gene Krupa-style drum display, Breuker, on soprano, squeezes out one of his near-patented free jazz screeches, all split tones, growls and with a stop time section. How much of this is a put-on, you wonder?
You could ask the same question about de Jonges waltz time arrangement of Hoagy Carmichaels My Resistance Is Low. Vocalist Breuker is reborn as a whispering boy singer of the 1930s, with the rest of the band members providing first vocalizing glee club style, then taking a unison vocal by themselves. Meanwhile the horns provide some sweet, sweeping sax riffs that havent been heard since the heyday of the Casa Loma Orchestra. The brief version of Jean-Philippe Rameaus 1739 Musette En Rondeau is as stiff and heraldic, as youd expect of any court music of that day.
Theres plenty of variety on this nearly 59½-minute session and a lot of well-played good music. But there isnt any exploratory, improvisational jazz here. Although several other discs released in the past 10 years offer a similar program, the CD will be welcomed by WBK fanatics. It can also serve as a good introduction to the band for the uninitiated, and is a fine souvenir of the bands present-day live show.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing 1. Hap Sap 2. Wake Up! 3. Thirst IV (The End of the Rope) 4. Angry Jungle 5. Hulpverkrabber 911 6. My Resistance Is Low 7. Senza Parole 8. I Remember April 9. Musette En Rondeau
Personnel: Boy Raaymakers, Andy Altenfelder (trumpets); Andrew Bruce (trombone); Bernard Hunnekink (trombone, tuba); Willem Breuker (soprano and alto saxophones, vocal); Hermine Deurloo (alto saxophone, harmonica); Maarten van Norden (tenor saxophone); Henk de Jonge (piano, organ, electronics); Arjen Gorter (bass); Rob Verdurmen (drums)
December 2, 2002
WILLEM BREUKER KOLLEKTIEF
WILLEM BREUKER KOLLEKTIEF
BVHaast CD 1601
Nearly 30 years after the creation of the Willem Breuker Kollektief you can refer to energetic reissues like these two and note how the Dutch 10-piece band has changed over time.
One of the Big Three post-Bop movers and shakers in Holland -- pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink are the other two -- saxophonist/composer Breuker was initially allied with the other two in the Instant Composers Pool (ICP). But, as a ferocious improviser who was as likely to turn up on sessions led by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, vibist Gunter Hampel or trumpeter Don Cherry as on Dutch dates, he obviously had energy to spare. Furthermore, gifted with a broad if somewhat sardonic sense of humor and a broad theatrical sense, he was able to tailor compositions to parodistic happenings, stage presentations, TV shows and films.
Eventually it became clear that he wasnt prepared to play Trotsky to Mengleberg and Benninks Lenin and Stalin, as one of three who made a revolution, and he went on his own. Since that time Breuker, in concert with the leaders of some other large European aggregations has tended to downplay improvisations for charts that reflect his interest in modern classical music, opera, cabaret and pop music. Furthermore, he has made sure that everything the band plays is served up with a hearty drollop of visual humor. At the same time the Kollektief has grown and shrunk in size with vocalists, string players and the like added and subtracted at different times. Today a Kollektief performance is as liable to be an entertaining show as much as a jazz concert, with the leader coming across as sort of a Lowlands Paul Shaffer.
Thats a bit unfair, even though Shaffer did start off as a jazzer and has recorded with guitarist Muñoz and tubaist Howard Johnson. Although his music is peppy enough for late night TV, Breuker is far too anarchistic be long satisfied as second banana to smarmy David Letterman. Still, his vocal turn as a rock star/lounge lizard on To be with Louis P. on IN HOLLAND sounds a lot like Shaffers present persona.
Although the Kollektief remains the only other orchestra besides Sun Ras Arkestra that could aurally illustrate cartoons without a second thought, since the first CD here was recorded in 1981 and TO REMAIN in 1983, 1984 and 1989, the basic jazz-improv shape of the band is still in place. Breuker is also a good leader, despite -- or perhaps because -- of the fun produced. Although he gives plenty of space to the exceptional jazz soloists he has on board, he always makes it clear that the band itself is paramount. Also, like Duke Ellingtons orchestra at least a quartet of his bandsmen have been with him for almost the entire time and at least one band chair was emptied due to the death of its occupant.
Each reissue has something to recommend it. IN HOLLAND, recorded at one time is tighter, while TO REMAIN, a pastiche of three sessions, showcasing different soloists.
Nationalistically or jokingly, IN HOLLAND has as its raison dêtre a rather straightforward four-part run through of Concertino no. 5 in F minor by Dutch baroque composer Unico Willem van Wassenaer (1692-1766). Despite the shared first name between the composer and Breuker, the main reason to perform the concertino merely seems to be to prove that, along with its other attributes, the ensemble can come up with a note-perfect recreation of period music.
Besides, that CD contains one of Breuker half reverent/half serious tangos with what sounds like a toy piano intro, a few yells and some car horn noises from the saxes. Then theres Kudeta, a showcase for keyboardist Henk de Jonge that seems to meld modern jazz, Rachmaninoff, ragtime and Moonlight Sonata.
This musical schizophrenia continues with most of the soloists. Drummer Rob Verdurmen, for instant, keeps a steady modern jazz beat going most of the time, but appears to be emulating Gene Krupas Sing Sing Sing solo on Overture from De Vuyle Wasch. On his own Pale Fire tenor saxophonist Maarten van Norden probes deep into the avant-garde stratosphere, while the backing sounds like big band cartoon music. Even Boy Raaymakers feature, Deining, floating on a boppish piano figure, shows the veteran trumpeter coming across half Clifford Brown and half Lester Bowie, then ending like a Swing era soloist soaring over band riffs.
Section mate Andy Altenfelder appears to be playing a frelich at a Jewish wedding on Hopsa, Hopsa, but mixing his neighing Ziggy Ellman tone with a Bubber Miley growl. Its an impression intensified by the accordion playing of composer de Jonge and Breukers Klezmer-style clarinet. But is that a quote from non-kosher Jingle Bells at the end?
Maybe this analysis is a bit too serious since Interruptie, the leaders breakneck alto sax showcase mixes circus music blats with a sweet band reed mans fruity tone. It ends as if he was a vaudeville trick horn player showing how high he can play and how many effects he can produce from his horn.
The cleavage in the solos is reflected in the overall creation. Fun and frantic, the backing figures and harmony appear to be distinctively in the mainstream of modern big band writing, except that is when Breuker seems to slip into some Gordon Jenkins-Billy May-like sophisticated swing. With their brass flourishes and references to tangos and European classical music the parts sound distinctive, but after the discs more than 78 minute (!) running time, similar to one another.
Three variants of the Kollektief give the second disc more of a variety of sounds, but paradoxically as the leader takes over all the writing chores, the number and duration of solos seems to decrease as the amount of references -- humorous and otherwise -- to other musical sources increases.
Among the standouts is trombonist Bernard Hunnekinks speedy triple tonguing gutbucket outing on Lokk. He plays with growls and grit, though the horn charts in the background suggest semi-exotica à la Les Baxter. Alto saxophonist André Goudbeek constructs his feature on Snevel with a mixture of consistent Hard Bop with a few New Thing freak effects, though he does seem to be playing When Johnny Comes Marching Home by the end. Bassist Arjen Gorter appears to be doing no more than exposing his inner Paul Chambers while timekeeping on Nijpe and Hasps. But this tune featuring de Jonge, speeds up and slows down so often that you arent sure whether hes seriously or jokingly referencing Bebop, Chopin études and energy music at different times.
Meanwhile the last track appears to pure group music taken at a frantic tempo with quotes from Tiger Rag, Take the A Train and a final plink-plink-plink section straight from Count Basies piano playing. On the other hand, the penultimate track is a recreation of locomotive sounds complete with a train whistle -- and how often has that been done? Wolkbreuk III comes across like a Merrie Melodies version of a sea shanty, complete with cannon sounds from the synthesizer and a snatch of Rule Britannia. But why does this foot tapper have a swaying schmaltzy saxophone interlude that sounds closer to the work of vaudeville C-Melody sax master Rudy Wiedoeft than anyone in the Ellington band?
Taking up tracks 3 to 13, the title tune never lets up, but often in between the solos the forward motion owes more to European brass band fanfares, military marches, Cossack dances and British jigs than jazz time. Obviously 4/4 is not Gods tempo -- no matter what the neo-con jazzers may say -- but when he isnt careful, and isnt swinging, Breuker has a tendency to become overly cute and corny
Measuring them against the unimaginative, derivative works that many conservative European and American biggish bands have produced since that time both CDs are exciting and worth your attention. But as souvenirs of how the Kollektief has changed and what it has become, they may collectively be a caution as well as an augury.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Holland : 1. Ouverture from De Vuyle Wasch; 2. Sur lautoroute 3. Tango superior 4. Interruptie 5. Deining 6. Kudeta 7. Prokof 8. Invasie muziek Bob + Babe 9. To be with Louis P.* 10. Pale fire 11. Hopsa, Hopsa Concertino no. 5 in F minor 12. Adagio 13. Da Cappella 14. A temps commodo 15. A temps giusto 16. Marche Funèbre from De Vuyle Wasch
Personnel: Holland : Boy Raaymakers, Andy Altenfelder (trumpet); Willem van Manen, Bernard Hunnekink (trombone); Willem Breuker (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, vocal*), Bob Driessen (alto and baritone saxophones), Maarten van Norden (alto and tenor saxophones); Henk de Jonge (piano, accordion, synthesizer); Arjen Gorter (bass); Rob Verdurmen (drums)
Track Listing: Remain: 1. Driebergen-Zeist* 2. Wolkbreuk III* To Remain: 3. Nork 4. Hoddel 5. Snevel 6. Mikkel-Gnoer 7. Dalf 8. Lokk 9. Nijpe 10. Haps 11. Barst 12. Plank III 13. Ontegen 14. Hap Sap+ 15. Like Other People Say 16. What ?*
Personnel: Remain: Raaymakers, Altenfelder (trumpet) Greg Moore [3-13,15], Hunnekink, Garrett List*, Chris Abelen+ (trombone); Breuker (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), André Goudbeek (alto saxophone), Peter Barkema [3-15], (tenor saxophone), van Norden (tenor saxophone, clarinet)*; de Jonge (piano, synthesizer); Gorter (bass); Verdurmen (drums, percussion)
April 19, 2002