April 3, 2022

Beats the Plague
Trytone  TT 559-087

The Undercurrent Orchestra
Everything Seems Different
ZenneZ Records ZR 2109020

Covid-19 and its pandemic variants have had global effects on the world’s population, not the least improvising musicians. Thus, it’s appropriate that during the last almost three years of fear, isolation and limited movement, two sextets from the Netherlands have created these energetic, playful and in-your-face sessions. Appropriate as well, and also reflecting the world’s increasing globalism, while all the players are Dutch residents many have settled there from elsewhere.

A known quality, Spinifex has been turning out rhythmically frantic and worldly programs for several years now. The group now includes Germans, alto saxophonist Tobias Klein and drummer Philipp Moser; Portuguese bassist Gonçalo Almeida, Belgian trumpeter Bart Maris and US tenor saxophonist John Dikeman plus Dutch guitarist Jasper Stadhouders. A new vehicle for the compositions of Dutch clarinetist/saxophonist Iman Spaargaren, The Undercurrent Orchestra has trumpeter Gerard Kleijn and trombonist Joost Buis as the other members from the Netherlands, while drummer Marcos Baggiani and guitarist Guillermo Celano are from Argentina and cellist Annie Tangberg is Norwegian.

Like the pandemic itself, the both sextets’ enthusiastic outbursts take no account of geographical origin, What the bands do share are astute arrangements that make the sounds from only six players project the timbral skills of larger units.

The Undercurrent Orchestra often melds Jazz and Blues inflections and European – sometimes faux-formalist or Middle European – suggestion in the same performance then adds more. On “Los Zapatos” for instance the vibrating cello introduction gives way to hopping reggae-like drumming, a moderated trumpet solo and then chunky guitar flanges, which before a loping climax exposes some near Dixieland  brass plunger cries. Harmonic instrumental concordance is highlighted as well, as on the concluding “Waltz For Undecided Minds & The Art Of Decision Making”. Although it seems as if the tune’s cello sweeps and clarion horn section cushions are going to define a moderated call-and-response sequence. That is until unexpected tone spurts from tenor saxophone, rerattling drum ratamacues and rugged guitar flanges push the piece past pleasant to polyrhythms,

While there are impressive contributions from Spaargaren, whose timbres are correctly Cool or appropriately hot on both his horns, the string players, percussionist and brass player, the standout soloist is the highly versatile Buis.  He can create perpendicular accompaniment as on “Waiting Room”, with its roots in brass band marches. But he can also  turn around on tracks such as “Scène Onderbroken Door Inkomend Telefoongesprek” to break out from an exposition built around chalumeau register clarinet and buzzing cello tones with effervescent blowing that personalizes an interlude of descriptive plunger tones accompanied only by guitar chording.

Spinifex has no trombonist, but it’s frontal attack to beat the plague depends throughout on tough horn harmonies projected through Maris’ fluttering trumpet squeals and the see-sawing riffs from the alto and tenor saxophonists. As well as brief single tracks that detonate with near Punk energy, a collection of compositional tropes advance musical anti-Covid boosters. Among the vamping sections evolved are pieces that start off moderato and andante and quickly escalate to cleanly harmonized horn vamps advanced, as on the concluding “I’ll Call You in a Hundred Meters”, with smeary trumpet triplets and hard drum backbeats only to collapse via a repetitive, knob-twisting guitar solo and pressurized bass runs. Dikeman’s free-form tone squeezing, honking and split tone echoes are given prominence throughout., But the essential broken octave elaborations and evolution in multi counterpoint is best expressed on the connected “Zoowiezoo” and “Four20”. The first is bookended with blaring traffic-like horns, but draws back more mor focused rustic vibrations as focused brass triplets and Stadhouders’ below the bridge finger picking define a countermelody that vanishes under horn section projections, with the narrative finally settling into a reprise of the opening sequence. “Four20” on the other hand balances a complicated beginning that contrasts horn themes and Chinese wood-block claps with sliding vibrations from the guitar and shattering split tones from the saxophones, before sliding to a final connection.

Although their titles accurately reflect sentiments from Covid-19 years, neither of these discs can replace the proper number of vaccines needed to keep the mutating pandemic at bay. But as examples of the confident and curative power of music created during these times, they may well be just what doctors ordered.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Everything: 1. Ja Wat Bedoel Ik?! 2. Strange How Everything Seems Familiar And Yet Different At The Same Time 3. Waiting Room 4. De Vergeten Tijd 5. Los Zapatos 6. Scène Onderbroken Door Inkomend Telefoongesprek 7. Sub 8. Shaba 9. Françoise, Pourqui? 10. Waltz For Undecided Minds & The Art Of Decision Making 11. Encore: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Personnel: Everything: Gerard Kleijn (trumpet, flugelhorn); Joost Buis (trombone); Iman Spaargaren (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Guillermo Celano (guitar, effects); Annie Tangberg (cello, effects); Marcos Baggiani (drums, percussion)

Track Listing: Beats: 1. Nillepez 2. The Voice of Dust and Trash; 3. Fuck The Pest 4. Bageshri 5.  Zoowiezoo 6. Four20 7. Sex & Pestilence 8. Sesler6 9. I’ll Call You in a Hundred Meters

Personnel:  Beats: Bart Maris (trumpet, flugelhorn); Tobias Klein  (alto saxophone); John Dikeman (tenor saxophone); Jasper Stadhouders (guitar): Gonçalo Almeida (bass) and Philipp Moser (drums)