PAUL TERMOS/MISHA MENGELBERG
Paul Termos Sessions Volume I
X-OR CD 015/BIMHuis 006
PAUL TERMOS/WIEK HIJMANS
Paul Termos Sessions Volume II
X-OR CD 016/GeestGronden GG 23
When Paul Termos died at 51 last May, from cancer of the pancreas, he, like his onetime employer bassist Maarten Altena, was mainly known as a serious composer for chamber orchestras. But, and also like Altena, he had an extensive jazz/improv background as an alto saxophonist, encompassing stints in bands led by pianist Guus Janssen plus the ICP Orchestra.
Propitiously these two CDs -- probably the Amsterdam-based musicians last -- feature him in improv situations. VOLUME I is a reunion with his ICP boss, pianist Misha Mengelberg. The other is a five-track romp with young electric guitarist Wiek Hijmans, who despite his non-classical instrument also comes from the legit world.Surprisingly enough as well, the Hijmans-Termos meeting seems to stand up better than the other duo, although whether this was the result of chemistry -- body or location -- or merely over familiarity from Mengelberg-Termos is open to question. Unselfconsciously Hijmans appears to see his role here as providing fills to amplify Termos themes. Mengelberg, on the other hand is too much of old Provo to leave well enough alone and appears intent on disrupting any musical rapprochement the two veteran associates reach.
However, on something like the aptly titled, nearly 27-minute Longplay, Hijmans, who has played with John Zorn and Anthony Braxton as well as the Mondrian String Quartet and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, could be Billy Bauer to Termos Lee Konitz or Jim Hall to his Paul Desmond. As a matter of fact throughout there are Cool jazz inferences in the saxophonists work as well as some from pre-Beatles rock music. The later is made most obvious on Brown rouge rock when his high-pitched modulations first encourage the guitarist to thumb some bass chords like a modern day Link Wray and then turn to slurred fingering à la Duane Eddy. As Termos counters with sibilant triple tonguing and squealing altissimo runs Hijmans produces pummeling strums and a forest of fuzztone distortions. All and all the guitarists playing is more impressive and his conception more at ease than on his own CD, ELECTRIC SOLO! (X-OR CD 012).
Back to Longplay, though. Here flat-picking meets fanned, trilled reed notes as Termos investigates the bottom of his horns range and Hijmans tries for the top of his instruments. As the guitarist creates the rhythmic impetus with single string fills, the reedist goes on double tonguing melodies, repeating phrase in different tempos, pitches, harmonies and speeds. Proceedings become more abstract as Hijmans loosens his strings for better effects and Termos bites down on his reed for squeaks and squeals that dramatically build up into duple notes and corkscrewed echoing tones. Power chording and blurringly fast feedback with sharp, spiky guitar chords allow Termos to spin out tones that morph Desmonds output into something more closely resembling Evan Parkers.
Rock, free and jazz influences play hide and seek throughout the other tracks with Termos slurring out a ney-resembling Middle Eastern mewl at one point and barely audible squeals at another or pecking out single notes that are doubled by Hijmans. For his part the guitarist uses his effects pedal to create organ-like chords, ricochets single strings for maximum bounce and flat picks behind the bridge for maximum sonics. To sum up: the disc is an altogether satisfying experience.
Its too bad the same cant be said for SESSSIONS VOLUME I since Mengelberg and Termos have a longer shared history. But true cooperative duo playing seems to take place only on a few selections of the CD, recorded almost exactly a year after VOLUME II. The most extended example of this is Hallo Misha dag Paul. Here Termos initial exposition of wavering multiphonics is met by strong, syncopated motion -- and a few vocal cries -- from the pianist. As the saxmans false fingering and trill subside into condensed tunelets, Mengelberg somehow foreshortens his output to create a celeste-like sound thats half processional and half swing. Soon Termos has adopted a smooth, legato tone -- with a few harsh accents -- wrapping itself around the piano lines and diminishing in tempo so that at one point he seems to be playing Smile. Unlike his usual stance, though, the pianist, Tatum-like, throws in a few too many notes to make the ballad exposition fully comfortable.
This distinctive Mengelberg defying of musical conventions is extended on Bokkenrijder/Ive told every little star when the two eventually tackle a real Broadway melody. Adapting low-intensity, offside notes and double timing arpeggios to the theme, a burlesque of Jerome Kerns melody seems complete. In an analogous fashion, the pianists harsh, thick-fingered octave jumping pressures Termos to change his horns bottom rasping to repeated, growling split tones with irregular vibrations earlier on. A couple of the other themes are almost literal nursery rhymes rounds, demanding repetitive patterns from both musicians, as first one, than the other, harmonically dismembers the tunes.
Biggest disappointment is Dag Paul hallo Misha, which frankly goes on too long. It clocks in at a little less than half an hour, but it sound much, much, more drawn-out. Beginning with what sounds like Mengelberg doing piano exercises, Termos bittersweet tone initially suggests Desmond trying his hand at Free Jazz. Soon the pianist bears down for some high-intensity dynamics and Termos high-pitched squeaks begin to resemble those of the pianists first famous associate, Eric Dolphy. Introducing repeated double-tongues lines from the saxist, Mengelberg swoops over the keyboard, often creating sympathetic overtones with each keystroke. Settling into a Braxtonian section of split tones and wide vibrato, the reedist then advances a singular theme practically a cappella. Toying with pseudo-Swing, Ragtime, Baroque and Ecclesiastical octave shifting, the pianist wont settle on any one, then begins whistling accompaniment as Termos adapts a bop stance. Toots Thielemans need not worry, though.
Unfortunately, these displays of scattershot name-the-tune exercises continue for many minutes after their exhibition has proved the musicians versatility and then some. In the end, Mengelberg, who rarely produces lesser sessions on his own or with the ICP still has the chance to create better CDs. Termos unfortunately does not.
Others may judge VOLUME I less harshly and it may appeal to those seeking additional examples of the work of the infrequently recorded saxist. Still, for most, VOLUME II is the CD to seek out.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Volume I: 1. Dag Paul hallo Misha 2. Koekoek 3. Hallo Misha dag Paul 4. Bokkenrijder/Ive told every little star 5. Rumboon 6. Trapeze
Personnel: Volume I: Paul Termos (alto saxophone); Misha Mengelberg (piano)
Track Listing: Volume II: 1. Longplay 2. Lost geography 3. Brown rouge rock 4. New ear 5. Basic
Personnel: Volume II: Paul Termos (alto saxophone); Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar)
September 1, 2003
MAARTEN ALTENA ENSEMBLE
X-OR CD 013
Maarten Altena has managed to put together the first ghost band where the ghost is still alive. Using the name of such departed stars as Glenn Miller, Count Basie or Art Blakey, ghost bands are designated by the stars heirs to travel around playing the familiar repertoire. But Dutch composer/bassist Altena has turned the idea on its head. On this CD, at least, the Maarten Altena Ensemble (MAE) features neither its very much alive namesake in its ranks nor performs any music written by him.
Perhaps no stranger than the experiences of former jazzers who abandon the music once they find pop success, or religion, or studio work, Altenas career path has followed a unique archetype compared to that of many other creative musicians in the Netherlands
Born in 1943, initially he was a committed free jazzer who played with the likes of American saxophonists Marion Brown and Steve Lacy, Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg and British guitarist Derek Bailey. By the 1970s he moved away from jazz proper and was more involved with quieter, European-oriented, free music. When he organized his own groups in the 1980s jazzmen of the stature of drummer Michael Vatcher and trombonist Wolter Wierbos were on board, but the focus was on the interpretation of notated compositions. Soon he was using classically trained vocalists and recorder players and was acknowledged as a bona fide so-called serious composer. By the end of the century Altena, who has said his ideal is to have a repertory group that presents life as its lived in the city, had formed the MAE which did just as he wished. Few of the players had jazz experience and he no longer played bass with the ensemble.
This doesnt diminish the worth of this CD however, which features the ensemble performing works by six young composers, born between 1961 and 1971, who studied at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. Its probably instructive, though, to note that only one, New Zealand-born violinist Alison Isadora, who composed the fast-moving interlude No 6, had been a longtime member of the MAE. That said, as other have noted, while the MAE doesnt play jazz -- whatever that is -- it wouldnt exist without the improvisations and experimentations jazz brought to 20th century music.
Furthermore, the very first piece on the CD, Cypriote composer Yannis Kyriakides Dont buy sugar, youre my sugar, is constructed out of the eight-bar bridge in Fats Wallers Honeysuckle Rose. Featuring repetitive rhythmic layers and variations on Wallers jivey piano style, snippets of the jazzmans original vocal are present as well. Dutch composer Jan-Bas Bollens Zoab is described as obviously influenced by gabber house music of the 90s. Yet the performance, with its slinky piano tremolos, unison horn work and wooden stick and conga drum-like percussion underpinning from Hans van der Meer seems to draw on an earlier African-American dance form -- jazz -- as well.
Jazz has also always included that Latin tinge, which Colombian composer Ricardo Giraldo utilizes for his ostinato rhythmic pattern on his composition W. Plus the solos on it offered up by Wiek Hijmans electric guitar with a wah-wah pedal attachment; Pieter Smithuijsens squeaking arco bass; Anna McMichael skronky violin slides; and the honks and swoops of baritone saxist David Kweksilber and plunger trombonist Koen Kaptijn certainly wouldnt be out of place in many improv sessions. Percussionist van der Meer even appears to be playing standard bebop accompaniment throughout.
While neither of the discs vocalists could be mistaken for Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, nor could many contemporary improvisational singers such as Phil Minton or Shelly Hirsch. Israeli composer Rachel Yatzkans Be in your own World and Dutch composer Piet-Jan van Roussums almost 21½-minute Are you going out? are obviously program music, but with improvisational tinges. The former is built around a spoken text in Hebrew; while the later features the MAE commenting, sometimes rhythmically and often with suspense film themes, on the repetitive tape narration. Yet many so-called jazz composers such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and even Sun Ra have toyed with New music concepts like these. Not one of these men limited himself to standard theme-solo-theme compositions.
Theres no point trying to oversell GENERATIONS as the jazz CD that it assuredly isnt. However, it is absorbing as an example as how a well-organized and rehearsed ensemble tackles new compositions from promising newcomers. Still if you detect some influences from the j
world on it, dont say you werent warned.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Dont buy sugar, youre my sugar 2. No 6 (from Nachtvlinders) 3. Be in your own World* 4. Zoab+ 5. W* 6. Are you going out?
Personnel: Koen Kaptijn (trombone); David Kweksilber (C-melody and baritone saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet); Toshiya Suzuki (recorders); Anna McMichael (violin); Reinier van Houdt (piano); Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar); Pieter Smithuijsen (bass); Hans van der Meer (percussion); Noa Frenkel (voice*, keyboard pre-composed samples+); Dirtzen Rinkleff (voice^ ); pre-recorded tape^; Jussi Jaatinen [tracks 1-5] or Otto Tausk [track 6] (conductor)
January 22, 2003