A fine album that I'm especially glad to review: because it's a fine album, of course, but also because the music here is surprisingly accessible - which obviously can't hurt, right?
It's a "jazz album", by the way, featuring a mid-sized line-up. It presents standards and original compositions in equal number. This repertory could be filed under "Pre-Free", meaning compositions that are melodically adventurous and harmonically sophisticated, performed with a rich sound palette. The first thing that came to my mind as a point of reference were those Anthony Braxton LPs I usually file under the umbrella name "In The Tradition", but the quartet featuring just piano and rhythm - Braxton's line-up of choice for that kind of situation - is definitely not the best when it comes to those "Ellington" colours that a larger line-up can offer. Sometimes, while listening to this album, I was reminded of The Microscopic Septet, an ensemble that can read past pages in jazz very well while at the same time being quite aware of what came later. While the exuberance and vivaciousness appearing here and there on this album reminded me a bit of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath.
The names of those who wrote the standards covered here - Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Errol Garner, Cole Porter, Einar Aaron Swan, Thelonious Monk, Henry Sullivan, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, George Russell - are all very illustrious indeed, and so obviously well-known to those who have the whole history of jazz down cold. What about those - like me - who last listened to Errol Garner's Misty when in short pants, and who have only a passing familiarity with the work of Tadd Dameron? We'll have to go by feel, I'm afraid. With the usual doubts: I think that the end of Roes - Whirl quotes something familiar, I wonder if it's true... On the other hand, I'm certain that Rijp - Rime, an original composition, quotes the theme off Thelonious Monk's Criss Cross, unacknowledged.
The performers: Michiel Braam, piano; Angelo Verploegen, trumpet; Wolter Wierbos, trombone; Bart van der Putten, alto sax; Oleg Hollmann, baritone sax; Tony Overwater, double bass; Joost Lijbaart, drums.
I'm a bit ashamed to confess that the only performer whose work I know quite well is Wierbos, whom I first listened to about thirty years ago as a member of Maarten Altena's quartet. The leader is Michiel Braam, who arranged the pieces and composed the eight originals. With the only exception of a work for mid-sized line-up which I listened to not too long ago, and didn't seem to like very much, this is the first time I listen to Michiel Braam, the piano player - readers being of course aware of those very favourable reviews I wrote of Braam's works under the name Wurli Trio and eBraam, where he plays electronic keyboards.
The album's liner notes, quite useful in this case, declare that Flex Bent Braam is a new, "flexible", line-up. The album gets its name from Dutch CoBrA painter and poet Lucebert (a Web search told me there was a lot I didn't know). A pertinent anecdote is that "In 1965 Lucebert, a jazz lover, commented on the Dutch literary Fifties Movement by sending a telegram consisting of a list of jazz standards". (...) "Michiel Braam made new arrangements of these standards, and composed 8 new pieces based on the 'Japanese Epigrams', written in the fifties by Lucebert".
The album features fine recorded sound, with good studio work by Paul Pouwer. The whole sounding (purposefully, I'm sure) as quite "vintage": everything is clear, but just like music listened to live in concert, main parts always coming to the fore. The changing sound level of the instruments - check the double bass - reveals a mixing work done with a "compositional" logic. (In the stereo spread, trumpet and trombone are placed to the right, alto and baritone to the left; piano, double bass, and drums, all vary.) There's a lot of communication among the players - quite laudable, this, since I suppose they didn't have a long time to get accustomed to one another. The arrangements show a good degree of inventiveness, and never sound stiff.
Let's have a quick look at those pieces (but the real fun is in the listening!).
Better Git It In Your Soul - Charles Mingus. An exuberant start. Very fine trombone solo, with good backing by piano and rhythm. There's a vivacity that reminded me of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath - just check the work of the winds in the closing section of the piece.
Rijp - Rime. Drums, double bass, piano - it's Criss Cross! There are short solos by trombone, alto, baritone, quite swingin', then the trumpet, piano traveling parallel.
Dizzy Atmosphere - Dizzy Gillespie - and Misty - Errol Garner. Vivacious, joyful, the trumpet to the fore, with appropriate wind counterpoint. Fine solo episode by baritone, then it's back to the theme, for trumpet.
Roes - Whirl. One of the best tracks here. It starts slowly, with unison for piano and double bass, then winds explode. There's an alto solo which starts tense and slow, then growing in intensity, the winds joining, with a Gospel-like, "preaching" tone. Baritone solo with a "rarefied" backing, quite "bluesy". Theme for baritone, then "tutti".
Get Out Of Town - Cole Porter - and When Your Lover Has Gone - Einar Aaron Swan. Mutes, brushes, for a "cool" mood, an "Ellingtonian" treatment. The alto plays a solo, with fine piano backing. One can almost hear the clarinets.
Spijt - Rue. Reeds blowing, slow intro. The double bass played arco has a long, melodic, episode, almost a "Blues Tango". Excellent double bass performance. Then, an Intermezzo. A snare drum - like a funeral? - takes us to a "Dirge"-like mood. A fine arranging touch, a lonely piano note, which ends the piece.
Straight, No Chaser - Thelonious Monk. There's an annoying cymbal, sounding almost like an anvil. Theme for baritone, with fine counterpoint by the whole ensemble. There's a solo that sounds quite "modern", a sharp cut, then...
Drift - Urge. A piano that sounds very "Taylor-like" is in the background, a rhythmic pulse, winds. A swingin' wind section is paired with a modern-sounding piano - quite incongruous! Fine double bass solo, dark piano arpeggios, then a rarefied close.
I May Be Wrong - Henry Sullivan - and So What - Miles Davis. Winds, a piano trio, a baritone solo which definitely reminded me of some rhythmic moves by Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet. A piano solo, theme. A track that really sounds quite elegant.
Oord - Place. It blooms, then there's a trombone solo, with counterpoint. A fast piano solo - maybe reminiscing of mid-'60s Herbie Hancock on Blue Note? But it's the whole track - trumpet solo, fast trombone, drum solo, double bass - which reminded me of that era.
Let's Cool One - Thelonious Monk. A more swingin' version than the arrangement of the other Monk piece featured here. Joyous theme, then the double bass plays a thematic solo, with the snare drum played brushes, and the piano "comping". Ensemble, and a performance quite rich with inventiveness.
Zorg - Care. A "cool" start, trumpet with mute, trombone, alto sax, baritone. There's a fine theme, quite Mingus-like. Trombone solo, then it's an alto solo plus rhythms which reminded me of the mood of The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady. Piano arpeggios. A quite "knotty"-sounding swing theme.
Hot House - Tadd Dameron. Theme, a fine pounding piano solo, theme. With a pinch of Microscopic Septet.
Plek - Spot. A "hushed" theme on a pedal by piano and rhythm. The piece gets progressively more lively, with a touch of Rhumba. Baritone and trumpet come to the fore, a "Latin" theme. There's a vivacious solo by trombone and piano. In closing, interlocking winds. I'd call this track "cerebral swing".
The Stratus Seekers - George Russell. Very fast, with a fast double bass, a shrilly theme, unison, piano, trumpet and trombone. A very fast alto sax solo.
Herfst - Fall. A perfect album close, and one of my favourite pieces here. A swingin' start, quite cool and slow, fine rhythm section, then a theme appears sounding halfway between Mingus and The Art Ensemble Of Chicago - it reminded me a lot of the AEOC piece titled Charlie M. A cool alto sax solo, a trombone solo, winds bloom. There's a false ending. A strange-sounding piano appears, almost sounding like a sample - with effects? Enter the winds, it's Mingus time again, the cymbal signals the end, then the piano "turns off" the piece, with fine use of the pedal, playing high on the keyboard.
Beppe Colli, Clouds and Clocks