Dutch Jazz and Performers at the 2005 North Sea Jazz Festival

Mark Sabbatini By

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"There is a long jazz tradition in the Netherlands, from post-bop styles to a thriving avant-garde scene that developed in the 1960s. American jazz musicians have sometimes criticized Dutch jazz, arguing that it doesn't swing, or that it isn't sufficiently rooted in the blues. But with its philosophical roots in absurdism and slapstick, it's one of the few places where one can find humor in an otherwise serious art form."
- WNYC's "Soundcheck," from Nov. 18, 2003

Every year the North Sea Jazz Festival puts out a compilation CD of featured artists and it's always a big seller. But far edgier and harder to find is the Best Of Dutch Jazz Competition album featuring works by some of the country's best young jazz groups from recent years.

It could be found with a bit of searching at the 2005 festival, but there appears to be no simple way of ordering it online or through other channels. Thankfully, as is often the case, the internet offers many of the same listening opportunities - as well as work from other "obscure" festival musicians of note - free of charge.

Generous collections of big band to cutting edge are available from the performers below, with less middle-of-the-road and ear-assaulting random noise that is often the case - a tribute to the country's heritage and the quality of performers at the festival. Providing a comprehensive list of all festival artists with free full-length song downloads is nearly impossible without weeks of research, so several worthwhile hub sites are mentioned for those wishing to explore further, as well as soon streaming sites that offer a good range of music from numerous performers.

Tom Beek
14 live and studio tracks

WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=184> It's tough finding a better introduction to the Netherlands jazz scene than the 14 songs from this saxophonist, one of three finalists in the 2005 Dutch Jazz Competition and winner of best composition for "White And Blue." Beek has feet planted firmly in both old- school intelligence and modern spirit, and his songs range from progressive mainstream to funk to disco rock. "White And Blue" is a straight-ahead ballad probably best described as complex lyricism, with elements of gospel and waltz bubbling within. Among those at the other end are the post-bop "Mr. DJ" and funky live performance of "Caravan," which serve as better solo vehicles for his fairly level rapid-phrase approach. The non-jazz pieces, especially the disco-oriented "Beter Dan De Kopie" (apparently from an album by vocalist/percussionist Kasper van Kooten) are a considerable step down. And "Q Bell," described as a "sax experiment with Freakatronics and delay," is pretty much just that - brief and mildly interesting, but hardly a musical masterpiece. There's only a couple such deviations, however, making them more an interesting show of versatility than a nuisance. There's also several videos at the site which, besides the expected performance clips, include commercials for things like shampoo and the Red Cross.

Available at: www.tombeek.nl/pages/ENG_audiovideo.html.

Matt Cashdollar
Various live and studio performances

WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=193> Another generous and versatile saxophone collection, this time from a recent Iowa university graduate whose band, The Madcap Four, played the opening show at the North Sea festival. In fact, it's interesting doing a virtual battles of the bands between this collection and Veek's. Cashdollar's site features about about 20 songs, including seven Madcap Four selections from a concert series dedicated to the music of John Zorn's Masada - a demo disc Cashdollar used to successfully apply at North Sea. Much of it is quality stuff, including a strong Coltranish soprano sax and drums improvisation/ collaboration on the original "Bliss And Corruption," and constantly interesting tonal concepts with a saxophone quartet on the improvised "Minstrals." The Zorn material is more mixed, with songs like "Sippur" suffering from poor audio and a lack of standout performances, especially with Zorn a point of reference. The download process is a pain and a bit buggy, requiring extra work to download songs instead of streaming them. Still, Cashdollar's site is near the top of this article because it offers some of the most interesting material from my perusals.

Available at: www.mattcashdollar.com.

Highlight Jazz Orchestra
Eight songs from live demo CD

Another generous offering of a different type are eight MP3s from this big band's 11-song demo CD, recorded live in 1998. A May 1999 AAJ review by Jack Bowers says the album "consists of one dazzling highlight after another...(featuring) awesomely talented touring artists (such) as trombonist Bart van Lier and saxophonist Leo Janssen, but the ensemble itself is wide-awake and scrappy throughout, enabling its guests to unbend and feel right at home beneath a wide canopy of complementary swinging." Saves me the trouble of editorializing. The site says the audio is of poor quality, but it's similar to anything ripped from CD to MP3 format. Plus they're easy to download and well-documented.

Available at: www.trombone-usa.com/highlight_demo.htm.

Centre Ville
Three songs from Kleine Swing

These three short old-school gypsy jazz pieces capture a whimsical Django Reinhardt spirit, making them enjoyable if not Earth-shattering in any particular way. Listeners can paint their own visuals of "the relaxing way Amsterdam is in the summer or spring" on "Lente In Amsterdam" and go more upbeat on "Johnny Is The Boy."

Available at: www.xs4all.nl/%7Eharald/cv.htm.

Monica Akihary
Two studio recordings

WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=170> This Moluccan vocalist adds shades of Dutch and Indian elements to these two songs, located somewhat confusingly in the "miscellaneous" section of her Web site. Both are interesting listens with her improvisation- and scat-heavy vocals ranging from soothing to mid-burn, complimented well with percussion and guitar playing working with her instead of just setting a pace. The only drawback is two other compositions, plus some other content, are either missing the songs or are broken links.

Available at: www.boiakih.com

Songs from six Netherlands artists

Cnet.com is usually a good bet for finding at least a few "unknowns with talent," thanks to its ability to search by country, and the 15 free selections here cover lots of ground. Amsterdam pianist Burton Green does an intriguing soothing-jarring-soothing progression on the solo tune "Angels," mixing some freeform into his European/Jewish heritage. John Devitt offers four flute-led funk/fusion compositions ranging from decent to mediocre, with his fairly low-key playing taking a similar range as phrasing, rather than dazzling technique, is his emphasis. Willie Sparrow is an interesting one-man band fusion experiment, although his three tracks have the quality of someone OK at many instruments without mastering any (his guitar playing is a cut above the otherwise ordinary backings). Guitarist Paul Driessen' three songs include two lively rock-tempo pieces with a lot of evolving style and solo flair. Even further in this direction are the two tracks by Skalbeaggar, described as an "improvisational fear jazz band" - listeners into such concepts will find it sufficiently exploratory, others will mostly find it noisy. More soothing, if safe, are Reinhardt's two ambient synth-heavy tracks whose titles, "Antarctic" and "Summer Breeze," pretty much define expectations for themselves.

Available at: music.download.com

Radio Netherlands: European Jazz Stage
Archive of radio broadcasts

I don't mention a lot of streaming sites in my articles about downloadable music, since you can't easily save them and/or take them on the road in your iPod, but these 30-minute shows featuring live music from around Europe are worth hearing for those with the bandwidth. Among the themes are a show focusing on improvisation with a poetic feel, a "basement session" featuring festival performances from the 1974, and mixtures of artists such as Curtis Stigers, Hartog Eysman and Laura Fygi. The shows are well-documented, and available in Real Player and Windows Media Format.

Available at: www2.rnw.nl/rnw/en/features/cultureandhistory/050715ejs? view=Standard


This Dutch site takes a bit of navigating, but is another good reference and hub site. Trombone and orchestral work seems to get a bit of extra emphasis - among other things, this is where I found links to the Highlight Jazz Orchestra's album.

Available at: www.jazzmasters.nl


This 45,000-record database obviously goes well beyond the Netherlands; it just happened to be one I discovered at the moment. A quick search turns up 145 Dutch jazz artists, with profiles and links to their Web sites.

Available at: jazzworlddatabase.com

Photo Credit
Tom Beek: Frank Tesink
Monica Akihary: Angele Essamba Etoundi


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