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Album Review

Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet: Bluebeard

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Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet: Bluebeard
Since the late 1980s, Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing has steered a singularly eclectic course, bouncing between straight-ahead jazz, the two-guitar Wired Paradise, rock-cum-electronica, and Franz Schubert. This questing musician has never sat still for long. The mesmeric True (Challenge Records, 2012), however, marked the beginning of a more stripped down, meditative acoustic jazz, an aesthetic further refined on the award -winning albums Desire (2015) and Goldbrun (2017)-also on Challenge Records. Bluebeard, inspired by the French folktale of the same name, follows in a similar vein to its predecessors, with Honing's trademark lyricism—wistful and longing—framed by the sparest of arrangements.

Whether familiarity with Bluebeard's tale illuminates the conceptual continuity of the music in some way is debateable, as the album unfolds quite nicely by itself as a series of haunting tone poems. New colors have flowered in the quartet's sound since Goldbrun, with pianist Wolfert Brederode's additional vibraphone and harmonium lending ghostly ambiance throughout. On the opener, "Bluebeard's Maze," Honing's rubato tenor floats dreamily over spare rhythmic currents. Joost Lijbaart marks curiously deceptive time here; while his bass drum feels rooted, his slow snare beat lands hard and dry at extended intervals ranging between five and fifteen seconds. If there's a pattern, it remains elusive, but it imbues the music with a beguiling weightlessness.

In the main, though, the quartet's modus operandum is clearly defined, with simple motifs and steady rhythms setting up Honing to follow his muse. Gulli Gudmundsson's earthy double bass ostinato and Lijbaart's skipping brushes plie an unwavering course on "A Room With a View," while Brederode's painterly daubs punctuate the leader's gentle ruminations. The blueprint is effectively repeated on "The Art of Losing Isn't Hard to Master," with sticks replacing brushes. The format may be repetitive, but there is great beauty in the quartet's economy. Each measured beat or cymbal wash, each brief piano phrase or resonating bass string, and each shimmering vibraphone note, is felt.

At times, bass and drums are an almost subliminal presence. On "Narcissus," softly pulsing piano provides the main ballast to Honing's tender play. Brederode follows a similarly fixed course on "She Walked in Beauty, Like the Night," the title from a Lord Byron poem that has previously inspired classical and choral musical settings. Poetry has not infrequently provided the grist to Honing's mill, but a departure from his instrumental interpretations comes with the spoken word "Sonnet No.6 Bluebeard"; with the constant lapping of harmonium and vibraphone for accompaniment, Honing recites Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "Bluebeard," a dark morality tale about trust, human curiosity and betrayal.

"Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," the title taken from the famous Dylan Thomas poem, is the most buoyant number of the set. Over a steady piano and bass groove, and with Lijbaart off the leash, Honing's keening solo represents powerful release in the wider context of the album, and an appropriately poetic conclusion. As the music fades, the fierce tears of Honing's tenor still rage against the dying light, still burn and rave at the closing day.

Deeply lyrical, meditative and uplifting, Bluebeard is a fine addition to Honing's impressive discography, and a high-water mark in the quartet's trajectory thus far.

Track Listing

Bluebeard Maze; A Room With A View; Narcissus; The Art Of Losing Isn't Hard To Master; She Walked In Beauty Like The Night; Bits Of Paradise; Sonnet No.6 Bluebeard; Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Personnel

Yuri Honing: saxophone, tenor; Wolfert Brederode: piano; Gulli Gudmundsson: bass; Joost Lijbaart: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Yuri Honing: voice; Wolfert Brederode: harmonium, vibraphone.

Album information

Title: Bluebeard | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Challenge Records

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