Leo Cuypers: Heavy Days Are Here Again
Dutch pianist Leo Cuypers makes his political statement in the title of this 1981 quartet disc, an ironic anti- Reagan reference dating to the period during which this record was made. In a couple of ways this disc documents a reunion: at the time, both Cuypers and drummer Han Bennink had been estranged from reedist Willem Breuker after tenures in the Breuker Kollektief and the ICP, respectively. They get back together here, and the result is a burst of rediscovery and reunification. The cover design, as an illustrative example, consists of four photos containing three players each. Each picture is labeled with a player's name. But the great irony is that these labels correspond to which player is absent in the frame.
On Heavy Days, Cuypers and his quartet focus on in&out group improvisation. In a way, it's ironic how the structure of Cuypers's compositions belies a dramatic yet self-conscious similarity to traditional straight-ahead jazz. Each piece starts off with a hummably simple melodic head, then proceeds to unravel and deconstruct it before eventually returning to a familiar denouement. The beauty of Heavy Days lies in the way this quartet steers toward fragmentary free improvisation from a situation of prearranged order, then manages to recover the original conjoined motif. The message is that a coordinate arrangement written down on a sheet of paper can be functionally equivalent to one arrived at through the winding road of improvisation.
Heavy Days represents a peak in the history of European free improvisation. While each player brings an independent spirit and an personal approach to the quartet, Cuypers performs the necessary unification to make the group work. His arrangements lend an open-ended context for the out improvisations of Breuker et al., and his own playing generally subserves their coordination. When Cuypers breaks out, as in a passage toward the middle of the title track, he demonstrates a fantastic technical fluency and a mind-twisting, fragmentary approach toward rhythm and melody. Saxophonist/clarinetist Willem Breuker appears comfortable in the role of melodic leader, yet he also facilitates the improvisations of bassist Arjen Gorter and drummer Han Bennink. Because the sound on this disc is so well resolved, Gorter's independent voice is never lostassuring the listener that this group indeed consists of four interacting individuals.
Heavy Days originally appeared on BVHAAST, Willem Breuker's record company. This welcome reissue, prepared from the original master tapes, represents the only digital documentation of any of Cuypers's work. Most people probably haven't heard of Cuypers, but that's no reason to hold back. His ideas are solid, his playing conveys a sense of celebration, and his quartet articulates its impromptu deconstructions with savoir faire. In this reviewer's opinion, Heavy Days represents the apex of Atavistic's UMS, which continues to present a steady stream of (predominantly) European free improv reissues.
Track Listing: Happy Days; Asdat de Olifantstand; Misha; Stefanus; Be-Bach; Blue Tango; Couperin.
Personnel: Leo Cuypers, piano; Willem Breuker, saxes and clarinet; Arjen Gorter, bass; Han Bennink, drums, C soprano saxophone, trombone.