Tobias Delius / Michiel Scheen / Alan Purves / Jan Nijdam

November 11, 2017

Bij de Dieren Thuis

Soullasitutut Records 001


The 100% Rabbit

Jedso Records No #

Clichéd as it may seem to characterize tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Delius as musically always being a bridesmaid and rarely a bride; he’s one of those rare players whose reputation has been made for his non-leadership roles. Like Paul Desmond and Johnny Hodges, Delius has led and recorded with his own bands. But arguably his most distinguished work has been in co-op bands or those led by others, including Michael Moore’s Available Jelly, Sean Bergin’s MOB and the ICP Orchestra Trio.

Like job security of newspaper copy editors during the 20th century, there’s always work for an efficient band member, and the British-born reedist, now a Berlin resident after decades in Amsterdam, fits the bill. In essence many of the conspicuous virtues of these CDs can be attributed to Delius’ contributions. Featuring 13 compositions by Dutch bassist Jan Nijdam, Bij de Dieren Thuis – loose translation The Animals at Home – is by a quartet completed by Dutch pianist Michiel Scheen and Scottish-Amsterdam-based percussionist Alan Purves. Even more reflective of contemporary musicians’ musicians’ peripatetic lives, The 100% Rabbit features Canadian bassist Joe Williamson, who now lives in Sweden and Australian drummer Steve Heather, who has also set up shop in the German capital.

From the top, the Nijdam four sets up a paradigm where the reedist’s hard-edged tenor saxophone with John Coltrane-like echoes and his quieter, almost legit clarinet tones are balanced by the pianist’s chromatic exposition, which asymmetrically Monk, Herbie Nichols and semi-classical tropes with high-frequency chording. The drummer smacks and clanks where necessary and the bassist, unless it’s for a squirmy Arco reprise as on “Whimsical Elf”, keeps the themes both relaxed and forceful. A brief track like “Scherpe Randjes” shows Delius’ tongue-fluttering allegiance to pre-modern stylists when at one point he almost assays “Body and Soul”.

Without caricature, Nijdam’s tunes add a layer of whimsy to the proceedings. “Singel 42” for instance matches a piano excursion from Scheen that sounds as if elves are leaping across his keyboard with extended pizzicato sweeps from the bassist, with Delius’ double tonguing finally tying up the loose ends. The Slavic dance-like theme of “Cute Gallery” resonates with low-frequency piano noodling, a jerky pattern of reed whistles, swaying bass thumps and clip-clop percussion. Meandering, “Weerga und Wiederweerga”, with detours into modal pianism, timely dissected or expressively tonal saxophone snarls and timed drum pacing shows the quartet as effective at slow tempos as speedy ones. Still they key performance is the title track, where the combo’s unique meld of sweet and sour tones floats along on a combination of passing piano chords, sharp drum rebounds and distinctive doits and dashes from Delius.

Buzzy and boisterous in small doses, Nijdam’s playing is generally self-effacing. That’s a description that could also be applied to Williamson, but with Booklet having one fewer player there’s more aural real-estate available. Interesting enough the trio interprets “Mood Indo”, composed by pianist Scheen. Besides that, tunes not composed by Delius or (mostly) Williamson are part of medleys featuring lines by other Netherlands-affiliated Jazzers such as Moore, Bergin, Cor Fuhler, Dudu Pukwana and Johnny Dyani. Balanced on a walking bass line, Scheen’s piece features the saxophonist at his most exuberant, mixing crying split tones vocal exhortations, while taking apart the theme and sewing it together again. Dissonant and experimental at points, a track such as Fuhler’s “Rhythm Three” shows that the trio is unfazed by atmospheric scene-setting. Delius’ clarinet slurs break the tender theme into tiny shards as a deepening buzz from the Arco bass aids the ambulatory performance.

Like a fashion show model, practiced in quick changes for runway work, the triple-themed “Posoc/Song for Biko/The 100% Rabbit” demonstrates Booklet’s sophistication. Beginning with near-chamber-music-like suggestions from the clarinet’s airy tone, cymbal color and drum wallops plus busy string swats the tempo is soon sped up from a waddle to a run, during which Delius’ playing refers both to near-replications of classic songs plus reed squeaks and back-of-throat gargles. With the bassist and drummer more assertive, Delius’ solo moves from disconnected peeps to a peanut butter smoothness. The ending finds all three playing in tandem.

Even more representative is “Ezilalini/Green’, which mashes up two jivey Kwela-inflected tunes, the first from Pukwana and he second from Bergin. As Heather’s drums and Williamson’s strings sweep and pop, Delius’ tongue-fluttering narrative quickens out of the Townships and into Interstellar Space, effusively dissecting the tune into shards while the bassist holds to forward motion. Breathy and sibilant, the saxophonist’s strategy finds Bergin’s theme drifting in-and-out of focus as the track advances. Finally as variations on variations are tried on for size, discarded and picked up again, he and the others push along to a tingling climax,

As a leader Delius gives his all. Yet because of the proper framing with the right associates his work in a group that’s co-op or led by another can be even more notable. That’s the lasting value of these two CDs.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bij: 1. Ad Nasum 2. Spago Legato 3. Whimsical Elf 4. Scherpe Randjes 5. Grote Prijs Heer Hugo Waard 6. Het Zwarte Pad 7. Bij De Put 8. Weerga und Wiederweerga 9. Cute Gallery 10. Bundle of Joy 11. Singel 42 12 Bij De Dieren Thuis 13. The Big Yawn

Personnel: Bij: Tobias Delius (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Michiel Scheen (piano); Jan Nijdam (bass) and Alan Purves (percussion)

Track Listing: 100%: 1. Duck/Midnight/The Unseen Hand 2. Bureaucrats 3. Rhythm Three 4. Ezilalini/Green 5. Mood Indo 6. Posoc/Song for Biko/The 100% Rabbit

Personnel: Tobias Delius (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Joe Williamson (bass) and Steve Heather (drums)