dOeK Festival #9: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 4, 2010

dOeK Festival #9: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 4, 2010
John Kelman By

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dOeK Festival #9
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 4, 2010

While the majority of the 200 international delegates who attended Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2010, in Amsterdam, struggled with flight delays due to an early and tremendously severe arrival of winter and, for some, the impact of an air traffic controller strike in Spain, a small subset—including journalists from abroad, and representatives from festivals including Molde Jazz, the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Sunfest and Jazz em Agosto—made the decision to stay an extra day, in order to attend dOeK Festival #9 at the city's legendary Bimhuis club. It was the right choice on more than one level. First, by the time this one-day, left-of-center festival was over, the weather had cleared, and flights leaving Schiphol airport, the following day, were largely back on schedule. Second, and far more important, it was an opportunity to catch a number of established and/or up-and-coming improvised music groups (all from The Netherlands, with the exception of the closing group, Norway's The Thing), and hear the collective 18 musicians, from these five groups, come together for brief, without-a-safety-net musical collaborations in a wide variety of permutations and combinations.

That's because dOeK is a festival with a concept, and one that sets it apart from other improvised music festivals. In between group performances—this year including The Ambush Party, Available Jelly, The Gap, Wollo's World and The Thing—a series of encounters, called Mix and Match, were organized; ten-minute exchanges by musicians who may or may not have been meeting for the first time, but who almost certainly had never come together in these very combinations before.

dOeK is, at its core, a musicians' collective, based in Amsterdam, that focuses on improvised music. Its genesis dates back to 2001, when its five founding members—trumpeter Eric Boeren, reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Tobias Delius, pianist/guitarist Cor Fuhler, bassist Wilbert de Joode, and trombonist Wolter Wierbos—came together with a common vision regarding improvised music, and the founding idea of sharing their collective knowledge with other musicians. dOeK—from de Oefening de Kunst which, in turn, references a Dutch phrase reducing down to "practice makes perfect"—has, since that time, engendered a philosophy that improvised music needs to be practiced, both in the rehearsal hall and the concert stage. It's a concept that may, perhaps, seem antithetical to the very spontaneous foundation of the genre, but one which actually makes perfect sense. It may be extemporaneous music, but making it is still as much craft as it is art, which means that it needs to be honed through practice—both in rehearsal and on the concert stage. The not-for-profit organization has since grown to include a roster of 22 musicians, and its annual festival is an opportunity to bring most, if not all, of them together, for an evening of consolidation, exploration, evolution...and, occasionally revolution.

The five groups and numerous Mix and Match teamings made it clear that there's much more to improvised music than "everybody in the pool," and that knowledge of its own long history and of other traditions including jazz and classical music, are essential to creating music of substance and import. If there was any single lesson to be learned from the eight hour festival, it was this: to break the rules, first one has to know them. And, perhaps, one more: when it comes to improvised music—especially when it's absolutely unplanned and unpremeditated—success isn't always a given; but, sometimes, the journey to a destination can be as important and compelling as the destination itself.

Chapter Index
  1. The Ambush Party
  2. Mix and Match #1
  3. Available Jelly
  4. The Gap
  5. Wollo's World
  6. The Thing

The Ambush Party

Having literally just received copies of its self-titled debut CD on the de Platenbakkerij label that afternoon, The Ambush Party's pianist and spokesperson, Oscar Jan Hoogland, enthusiastically introduced the quartet's performance as its CD release party. But those looking for a typical celebration would have to look elsewhere, as this group of intrepid free improvisers wouldn't have lived up to its name, had it made any attempts to actually recreate the music on the disc.

From left: Oscar Jan Hoogland, Harald Austbø

Instead, The Ambush Party did what it does best: work together as an extemporaneous collective, in search of sound and color, mood and, occasionally, melody, amidst the various nooks and crannies each of these musicians provided in a set that demonstrated no shortage of listening skills amongst these instrumentalists. In addition to Hoogland's work inside the piano box and out—also employing a variety of preparation techniques, including small fans and a slide, to expand the instrument's sonic potential—tenor saxophonist Natalio Sued ran the gamut from droning, circular breathing to tremendous control in the upper register. Not content to bow or pluck the strings of his cello, Harald Austbø also strummed furiously at times, while Marcos Baggiani's drum kit was expanded to include a variety of hand devices, and some small blown instruments, including a harmonica and a kazoo.

Like many Dutch groups—an endemic characteristic stemming from the cosmopolitan nature of The Netherlands, in general, and Amsterdam in particular—only one member of The Ambush Party was actually Dutch (Hoogland), with Sued and Baagiani hailing from South America (Brazil and Argentina, respectively), and Austbø, from Norway. But together as The Ambush Party, origins become more or less superfluous, though Baggiani's use of harmonica did, in the freest way possible, create the minutest of links to folk music of the Argentinean rainforest. Passages so quiet it was almost necessary to lean forward to hear them, were juxtaposed with occasional dramatic bursts, as Sued demonstrated an ability to evoke consonant multiphonics rarely heard outside of Norwegian saxophonist Hakon Kornstad, while Austbø's pizzicato created, at times, an ostinato, leading to contrapuntal intertaction with Hoogland that, if not less than extreme, provided, at least, some of the set's more accessible moments.

It was a challenging set, but as much as the music possessed an air of gravitas, Hoogland's enthusiastic behavior before, during and after the set made clear that the feeling that this was all so serious was a misperception; not so surprisingly, The Ambush Party's music was about having fun, and if anyone was being ambushed, it was the audience, which was certainly confronted and confounded by the group's relentlessly exploratory nature.

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