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Talking Cows: Almost Human

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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If there is anything better than the off-the-wall humor of the video promo that preceded this Talking Cows album, it is the actual album itself. Yet much more than the humor of it all is the spectacular seriousness of the music: deadly serious, and for those familiar with the high standards of music (and humor) in The Netherlands itself, this album will surely rate as one of the finest to come out of that country, no matter what the category. How can a mere quartet from a largely agricultural country make such music; have such a larger than life sound; and, so-called jazz and not-so-called BAM notwithstanding, give it back to America in the most contemporary manner of music that ultimately has to do with that very agricultural country itself? Supporting live music and hosting one of the world's best jazz festivals (The Hague's North Sea Jazz Festival), and learning from the masters of African-American music about their history and the history of this global music are but two reasons for the magnificent and memorable music on Almost Human.

It is evident that Talking Cows have heard, studied and learned well from Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. The remarkable angularity of the quartet's music and the abrupt changes—not just tempo, but actual time—are only two of the reasons why these musicians might easily be mistaken for hard-nosed boppers. The geometry of Talking Cows' compositions including "Hurdles in Three," "Stroll for Gonso" and "Dinner is Served" is an endless stream of long and short lines, spectacular curves, parabolas, and acute and often obtuse angles, mixed in with sharp elevations. There is also a softness to the lines reminiscent of Ben Webster and it is often easy to imagine that melodies have been conceived using a French curve instead of a set square.

Often the melodies seem to be inspired by Lester Bowie—who was, himself, inspired by Monk, but introduced structured humor into music almost like the great Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco did in his theatre of the absurd. "Most Def!" is a superb example of this, with its marching drums, bass ostinato, piano gamboling and wild tenor saxophone leaps and romps, while the taut energy of "Hang Glider" is made more unforgettable by bassist Dion Nijland's arco and pizzicato playing and drummer Yonga Sun's chattering and grumbling.

There is a sense that tenor saxophonist Frans Vermeerssen and pianist Robert Vermeulen arethe forces behind the ensemble. However, none of what the group accomplishes—full-blooded compositions complete with visual suggestions and tactile drama—would have been possible without the participation of all the players. This may be the genius of the composers who, like Duke Ellington, wrote for the instrumentalists in his ensemble. Almost Human is one of the finest of any idiom, from any place that this music is both played and enjoyed.

Track Listing: Hurdles in Three; A Serious Lack of Humour; A Stroll for Gonso; Dinner is Served; Not Yet; Most Def!; Hang Glider; Mooing Around; Two Guys and Beer; Hop On, Hop Off.

Personnel: Frans Vermeerssen: tenor saxophone; Robert Vermeulen: piano; Dion Nijland: double bass; Yonga Sun: drums.

Title: Almost Human | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Morvin Records

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