Culled from 2009 concert recordings featuring high-profile guest artists, Quartet commemorates the 20th anniversary of the estimable Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher. Formed by Dutch pianist Michiel Braam in 1989 with bassist Wilbert de Joode and American expatriate drummer Michael Vatcher, the trio embodies the eclectic taste and mercurial sensibility of New Dutch Swing. Scene veterans, they have explored a wide range of territory over the past two decades, their often quirky choices best exemplified by their crafty cover of Ken Nordine's 1967 "Word Jazz" classic Colors (Philips), released on Braam's BBB imprint in 2002.
No strangers to collaboration, the trio has been joined by invited guests in the past, but rarely with the frequency suggested by Quartet. Featuring pieces recorded everywhere from Vancouver to Istanbul in a mere six months, this double disc set encapsulates their aesthetic range, balancing thorny free improvisations with nostalgic swing, vigorous funk and opulent balladry. Using tunes collected in Braam's Q-book, which contains pre-written melodies with fully notated chord changes and tempo markings (available from Braam as a PDF), the outcome is largely determined by the inclinations of the guest artists, who were invited to rehearse and perform or spontaneously improvise as deemed fit. Paul Dunmall's serpentine bagpipe screeds on the closing "Q41" are indicative of the later approach, unveiling the date's most extreme sounds. The others – Mats Gustafson, Taylor Ho Bynum, François Houle, Michael Moore and Peter van Bergen – approach the material in direct, albeit different ways.
Moore's four performances are among the collection's most compelling and naturalistic. His supple clarinet cadences soar with buoyant lyricism, perfectly complementing the trio's vivacious old fashioned swing. Bynum's musings on cornet and trumpbone veer from wraithlike mutterings to clarion trills, offering a glimpse of the ensemble at their most abstract, while van Bergen's sinuous testimonials expound with primal fury on "Q01," where his ribald tenor observes the tune's directive to play "Bluesy, Dirty!" Houle's clarinet and Gustafson's baritone infuse "Q51" with a blustery ardor that approaches Dunmall's caterwauling intensity on "Q41."
Though most of the sixteen tracks feature an invited guest, the remaining half dozen cuts spotlight the trio alone. Braam's probing filigrees, de Joode's pneumatic pizzicato and Vatcher's piston-like accents exude the pithy democratic interdependence of the best small combos. While exceptional on their own, augmented by a stellar international cast, the trio's Quartet is an anniversary collection as adventurous as it is enjoyable. Troy Collins, Point Of Departure.