Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2010: December 1-3, 2010

Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2010: December 1-3, 2010
John Kelman By

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Dutch Jazz & World Meeting
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 1-3, 2010
As difficult as it can sometimes be to appreciate how far jazz has evolved since making its first infant steps in the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century, it's equally remarkable to consider the scene in Europe. Beginning as a relative carbon copy of its partners across the Atlantic, jazz in the past fifty years inside the many countries that make up the European Union (and those that have opted not to belong) has evolved to add their own multifarious, multifaceted and multiplicious voices to a music that has long since gone from being America's music to being a truly global concern. And as more and more musicians hit the international stage, it also becomes increasingly clear that individual countries possess individual voices, despite being stylistically spread across the largest possible continuum, ranging from free improvisation and modern mainstream to edgy fusion, electronic and much, much more.

The Dutch scene, since emerging in the 1960s, has been defined by a combination of respect, irreverence and impish humor. Now-legendary artists like drummer Han Bennink may, half a century on, have a reputation based as much in the near-performance art of his live shows as in an unparalleled ability to do more with a single snare drum than most drummers do with an entire kit; but as his television performance with legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery, collected on the recent Jazz Icons Series DVD Wes Montgomery: Live in '65 (Reelin' in the Years, 2007) demonstrates, this is a drummer with no shortage of cred in the American tradition.

Were he to have continued on in such a straightforward and straight-ahead fashion, Bennink would have become nothing more than a fine mimic. Instead, as part of the emergent scene thoroughly documented in Kevin Whitehead's remarkable New Dutch Swing (Billboard, 2000), the drummer has become part of his own jazz iconoclasm in a scene that, with fellow creative spirits Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker, broke down a number of barriers to bring even further cross-pollination to a music defined by grand inclusion, all the while respecting many of the tenets that defined jazz in the first place.

More than many, the Dutch scene has incorporated a puckish sense of the absurd into the music, making it something that not only may have depth and linguistic complexity at its core, but something that also can be flat out fun. This quality ran as an undercurrent through the three-day Dutch & Jazz World Meeting, held in Amsterdam in early December when the continent was hit with a first blast of winter so severe that many airports were closed or significantly backed up, and the capital of The Netherlands experienced one of its coldest days in nearly two hundred years.

Dutch Jazz & World Meeting (DJ&WM), organized by MusicExport.nl, invited two hundred delegates from as far away as Canada, the USA, Brazil and Japan, for a two-day, three-night event aimed at exposing festival promoters, booking agents, record labels, journalists and others to a music scene that, in the past half century, has expanded to bursting point. The primary objective of the meeting was to encourage networking and knowledge amongst the delegates and musicians—directly, as well as through their record labels, managers and publicists—with the ultimate goal of finding new places in the world for these artists to bring their music. In addition to the two hundred delegates, it was possible to register and attend DJ&WM for a fee, and there were plenty of Dutch musicians and industry folks, along with those coming from abroad, ready to pay the registration fee in order to immerse themselves in the music for two days and attend a series of daytime workshops, including The Art of the Interview (for aspiring journalists), Focus on the USA (about the limitations and opportunities for touring in the United States), Jazz.X (an exciting new initiative intended to aggregate multi-lingual content under one virtual roof), Using Online and Social Media, and more. The daytime programs also included access to two floors of the Information Market—trade tables where delegates could meet with members of the Dutch scene—musicians, record labels, management companies and more, where it was possible to watch videos, listen to music and pick up the latest releases.

The first evening featured a hosted a dinner for invited delegates from abroad at the large venue that also houses the second incarnation of Amsterdam's legendary Bimhuis club, and special opening night performances by a duo of saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist/composer Guus Jansen; the post-punk world music-centric group, The Ex; and a DJ set from American expat saxophonist Michael Moore. The next two main evenings of the event were reserved for a series of showcases featuring 16 artists each night, at staggered times in four venues, at the converted Melkweg cinema and Sugar Factory club, located across the street. Two trade dinners before each evening's series of showcases—one for primarily world music delegates, the other for those more closely associated with the jazz world, though the lines between the two often blurred—encouraged the free exchange of ideas as Senior Project Manager Cees de Bever encouraged everyone to "mingle, throw your business cards around, and get some business done."

Dutch Jazz & World Meeting Information Market

The result was a tremendously dense couple of days where new relationships were forged and existing ones strengthened, all within the context of hearing groups that ranged from the relatively new (pianist Harmen Fraanje's Avalonia trio, vocalist Simin Tander, and the stunning and as-yet-unrecorded Lenneke Van Staalen) to the longer-standing (pianist Cor Fuhler's Corekestra, trumpeter Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash, guitarist Anton Goudsmit's The Ploctones, and saxophonist Benjamin Herman's Quartet). If there was any one complaint, it was: too much to do, and nowhere near enough time.

And the weather didn't help. The 200 delegates were largely put up in two lovely hotels—the Eden Amsterdam American and Eden Amsterdam Rembrandt—but to get to the daytime and nighttime venues, it was necessary to either walk in the bitter, wind-driven cold, or take a cab, which proved, at least on one occasion, to be a terrifying experience. Eco-friendly bicycles have right of way in Amsterdam, but when snow began to fall on Friday and then kept up through Saturday in a city with no real infrastructure to handle it, it became a life-threatening experience to be in a cab—bicycles swerved in front of a vehicle with no snow tires and a driver with no experience in this kind of weather, as the narrow Amsterdam streets became a rollercoaster of fishtailing cars, careless bicycles, and intrepid pedestrians.

Still, the weather was only a minor deterrent for an event that provided plenty of opportunity to become immersed in the music of the Dutch scene, and whether inclined towards jazz, world music, or both, it was an exciting and compelling couple of days.

Chapter Index
  1. December 2: Jasper Blom Quartet
  2. December 2: Harmen Fraanje Trio
  3. December 2: Benjamin Herman Quartet
  4. December 2: The Ploctones
  5. December 3: Simin Tander Quartet
  6. December 3: Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash
  7. DJ&WM Wrap-Up

December 2: Jasper Blom Quartet

First up at the Melkweg Cinema, saxophonist Jasper Blom and his quartet played a relatively brief performance, drawing on the quartet's two Mainland Music releases: Statue of Liberty (2008); and Dexterity (2010). With showcase sets limited to approximately 45 minutes, Blom's group still succeeded in delivering a strong performance and a thorough cross-section of its varied musical interests.

Blom's guitarist, Jesse van Ruller, may be the best-known of the group on an international level, with albums on the Netherlands-based Challenge and Criss Cross labels—the latter not only supporting the Dutch scene, but a variety of established and up-and-coming American artists, such as guitarist Lage Lund, trumpeterAlex Sipiagin and pianist David Kikoski. Van Ruller's own Criss Cross releases, including 2002's Here and There and 2003's Circles, largely fit in the modern mainstream arena, and while the same description could apply to Blom's group in its subsuming of swing and familiar vertical harmonies from the American tradition, van Ruller's performance with Blom at DJ&WM was a more than pleasant surprise, as he employed an array of effects to lend a John Scofield-like edge to songs like Dexterity's fiery "Knor," where the guitarist blended tart linearity with harsher voicings.

Blom, too, had his own arsenal of effects, controlled by hand on a table beside him while he employed some interesting textures rarely heard on saxophone, including pitch shifting, delay/looping, and even at one point, oblique, ring modulator-like timbres. The fact that he had to take one hand off his tenor in order to effect changes or trigger devices, made some of the transitions less than seamless, but it is a small quibble, especially on complex tunes like "The Least of Your Worries," which traversed surprising turf for its relatively brief (less than ten minute) duration.

Blom's tunes orbited around the contemporary American axis to include references to drummer Brian Blade's influential Fellowship Band on the opening "Waltz for Magnus." There were also periods of unabashed, straightforward swing, while the saxophonist's writing also brought hints of the Orient, and gentler but more harmonically ambiguous impressionism on the balladic "Homecoming"—all bolstered by the spare but note-perfect support of bassist Frans van der Hoeven and delicate but powerful-when-needed drummer Martijn Vink, who demonstrated, in this performance by the Jasper Blom Quartet, early evidence of a stylistically unfettered breadth that would only become clearer later the same evening when he performed as a member of The Ploctones.

December 2: Harmen Fraanje Trio

Sometimes a single experience can be enough to elevate a group to the next level. Pianist Harmen Fraanje is a relative youngster who is gaining increased international attention for his work with trumpeter Eric Vloeimans' Fugimundi trio with Ploctones guitarist Anton Goudsmit (heard earlier this year as part of the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival's 2009 Fall-Winter Concert Series), and who was the subject of a public interview, along with Vloeimans, as part of DJ&WM's The Art of the Interview workshop the following day. The addition to his small but strong discography of Avalonia (Challenge, 2010) represents a significant stylistic shift for the 34 year-old pianist, as he deserts the structured compositional environs of his quartet and quintet records—2003's Sonatala and 2006's Ronja, both also on Challenge—for the more liberated intimacy of a piano trio.

It was this trio with bassist Clemens van der Feen and drummer Flin Van Hemmen that Fraanje brought to the same Melkweg Cinema venue as Blom. But while the group's unmistakable chemistry and gentle, restrained approach to risk-taking has been slowly, inexorably evolving on its own, a recent series of live dates, with Fraanje inviting American saxophonist Tony Malaby to flesh things out to a quartet, has resulted in a palpable quantum leap of faith and freedom. In a set that exemplified how a trio founded on unshakable trust could turn relative sketches into extended free improvisation of not-quite-reckless abandon, their playing was all the while rooted in contexts of melody, harmony and pulse, but with an ever-present sound of surprise. On record, in fact, the trio's performance of Avalonia's "Roundabout" never actually makes it to the written theme, but its existence drives the trio's direction as it works its way to a place never actually reached, the journey being far more important, in and of itself, than the destination.

While Fraanje's influences are clear—touchstones like Brad Mehldau, and Paul Bley, by way of Keith Jarrett—his own voice is emerging with increasing confidence and clarity. A pianist for whom the act of not playing is as significant and intended an action as the act of playing, Fraanje could be seen, as often as not, with his hands raised above the upright piano (no room for a grand, here), singing quietly and waiting for just the right moment to descend with anything from a spare chord to long, serpentine, but ultimately elliptical motifs. It created a tremendous sense of tension and unpredictability that made this a model set of largely improvised music.

The comfort level shared by each of the trio's members was such that when, immediately prior to the set, Fraanje pulled out a piece by classical composer Paul Hindemith, it was a given that the trio would simply use it as yet another starting point for collective free play, and without a moment's rehearsal. That some of the music felt like it had a more defined structure—even as it was clear that this was a trio pulling melody, harmony, rhythm and color out of the ether—only spoke to the connection that this trio, now a couple years old, shares amongst its members, but at an even deeper level than before its handful of dates with Malaby.

That Malaby wants to bring the trio to New York to collaborate again only speaks to the clear strengths of these players, collectively and as individuals. There were few displays of overt virtuosity, though van der Feen did demonstrate both lithe pizzicato dexterity and soaring arco lyricism, while van Hemmen moved effortlessly from rubato, Paul Motian-esque color to more defined but still refined pulse. But what was most immediately striking about this performance from Fraanje's Avalonia Trio, was its rarified air of discovery, and the implicit value of a bond so strong that every one of its members clearly felt comfortable with risk, safe in the knowledge that there was no such thing as a mistake; rather, it was nothing more than an opportunity to morph the music into yet another shape.

December 2: Benjamin Herman Quartet

Just as legendary American groups like Miles Davis' mid-1960s quintet, or fusion groups like pianist Chick Corea's Return to Forever encouraged the emergence of new leaders, Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap's group of the mid-1990s was the starting point for a number of artists who have since gone on to become significant names in their own right. In fact, Borstlap's unique tribute to '70s fusion supergroup Weather Report, Body Acoustic (Universal, 1999), and his earlier Sextet Live! (Challenge, 1995), both featured a number of then-emergent artists who, by their association with Borstlap's greater visibility in his subsequent duo work with British drummer Bill Bruford on In Two Minds< (Summerfold, 2008) and his own remarkable tribute, Monk (Gramercy Parki, 2009), have since achieved considerable international exposure.

From left: Joost Patocka Ernst Glerum, Benjamin Herman and Anton Goudsmit

Recent releases by saxophonist Yuri HoningWhite Tiger (Jazz in Motion, 2010), and trumpeter Eric Vloeimans (Heavens Above! (Challenge, 2009), with the electric Gatecrash quartet playing at DJ&WM the following night) have both received their share of press, and the same can be said for saxophonist Benjamin Herman, whose Misha Mengelberg tribute, Hypochristmastreefuzz (Dox, 2010), augments the original 2008 studio recording with a second disc containing a live performance from the North Sea Jazz Festival the following year.

Herman's DJ&WM performance at Melkweg's The Max—the venue's largest room—focused largely on music from Hypochristmastreefuzz, with the same core trio of bassist Ernst Glerum and drummer Joost Patocka, and the complete participation of guitarist Anton Goudsmit, who appeared on two of Hypochristmastreefuzz's studio tracks, as well as the North Sea set. It was a set high on style, but also rich with substance.

With Herman a previous winner of the VPRO / Boy Edgar Prize (The Netherlands' Grammy), Glerum a winner in 2009, and Goudsmith receiving this year's award, it was easy to see why this all-star quartet of critically and popularly acclaimed musicians was so ear-catchingly accessible, despite sacrificing absolutely nothing to make it so. The quartet swung, it grooved...it got, at times, downright crazy, all within the context of freewheeling music that traveled from '60s swing to the largely free-improv of "Arm Wiel (Poor Wheel)," a song dedicated to, well, a donut. The impeccably dressed Herman—no surprise, given he also won Esquire Magazine's 2008 prize for "Best Dressed Man"—blew with the confident strength, occasional lyricism and bop-driven extroversion, and with "Brozziman" (dedicated to Peter Brötzmann), a power and volume shocking for his relatively diminutive alto saxophone, bolstered by Patocka's hard-rocking go-go beat on a song that sounded like something from Quentin Tarantino movie.

Goudsmit—a guitarist who seems to have suddenly lept onto the scene despite being around for decades—was also voted, by his fellow musicians, as The Netherland's best pop guitarist for 2010, an award that might be curious were it not for the guitarist's remarkable melding of jazz-centricities with rock energy and, at times, rock volume. If Bill Frisell were a raving extrovert, he might sound something like Goudsmit, whose stage presence was eminently charismatic as he demonstrated effortless virtuosity on a blonde, hollow-body Gretsch guitar that's largely atypical in jazz, but from which Goudsmit pulled a bevy of textures ranging from volume-swelled and delay-drenched chords to gritty overdrive and crunching power chords.

It was a tremendously exciting set that also included the gypsy-driven, Pink Panther-esque "Do the Roach," which not only got the crowd going, it set the stage perfectly for The Ploctones set, next up in the same hall.

December 2: The Ploctones

After a short break, Goudsmit was back, but this time with his own group, The Ploctones. Goudsmit may be the primary writer for the group, but it's clearly still a collective. The follow-up to 050 (Challenge, 2009), being prepared for release in 2011, is a case in point: Goudsmit wrote all the tunes, but he left the task of choosing the best takes and mastering to his band mates: saxophonist Ephraïm Trujillo; bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Martijn Vink, who was heard earlier in the evening with the Jasper Blom Quartet. Even more stylistically unfettered and at times, flat-out absurd than Herman (but in a different way), The Ploctones ran the gamut from New Orleans Second Line to flat-out funk, driven by Goudsmit's Steve Cropper-on-steroids rhythmic support.

The Ploctones, from left: Martijn Vink, Jeroen Vierdag, Ephraïm Trujillo, Anton Goudsmit

The group played a lot of material from the forthcoming record and represents, if anything, further consolidation and growth over 050, and the quartet's first release, Live op het Dak! (VPRO, 2005), released prior to the quartet finding its name. As attention-grabbing as Goudsmit was throughout the set, he was equally matched by the rest of the group. Vierdag, in particular, demonstrated a retro-tradition on acoustic bass, but pulled out the groove on electric—more Alphonso Johnson than Jaco Pastorius—and no shortage of his own improvisational prowess when he finally took a solo during the set-closer. Vink's solo, over a relentless ostinato from earlier in the set, combined the unshakeable groove of New Orleans' Johnny Vidacovich, the potent swing of Art Blakey and the hard-edged surf-rock of The Adventures in Jazz Orchestra' Melvin Taylor...with an occasional hint of the late John Bonham's thunder. California-born, but an Amsterdam resident since 1980, Trujillo mixed surprisingly consonant multiphonics and a percussive edge with dexterous thematic development on both tenor and soprano; a melodic foil for Goudsmit, whose largely tart tone was a fundamental to The Ploctones' underlying harmonic complexion.

As a writer, Goudsmit is as eclectic as they come, with the contrapuntal, polyrhythmic complexities of "Muchacho" sounding more than a little like Lost Tribe, the 1990s American group that helped launch the careers of saxophonist David Binney and guitarists Adam Rogers and David Gilmore. Intricate, but never taking itself too seriously, The Ploctones delivered a set that, much like Herman's preceding performance, was both substantial and fun, with plenty of eye contact, smiles, and sometimes outright laughter shared between Goudsmit, Trujillo, Vierdag and Vink. It was a terrific way to close out the Thursday evening's showcase at Melkweg, with many of the DJ&WM delegates returning to the Eden Amsterdam American for more, as saxophonist Susanne Alt led her group at a late-night jam session.

December 3: Simin Tander Quartet

With The Netherlands as a whole—and Amsterdam in particular—being such a cross-cultural melting pot, it's no surprise that so many of its groups are comprised of Dutch residents who emigrated from other countries. In fact, it's not unusual to find entire groups where every member of the group is a Dutch immigrant. Vocalist Simin Tander is a German/Afghan expat who, while still wrapping up her forthcoming debut as a leader, has been on the scene for a few years since graduating from The Netherlands' ARTEZ Conservatoire, even gaining the attention of jazz vocal legend Sheila Jordan, who dubbed her "a very special talent," and has since taken Tander under her wing—a mentorship that was in clear evidence during Tander's set at Melkweg's Old Hall. Tander's visibility has continued on an upward path, with the singer appearing at a number of European festivals, winning the first prize of the Vlaardingen Jazz Concours, and performing on the soundtrack to the occult television series, Tartort.

From left: Cord Heineking, Simin Tander, Etienne Nillesen

Tander's well-received set suggested many of the singer's strengths in a relatively brief time frame. An improvising singer who is bringing something a little different to the scat tradition, she was as comfortable in English on the pop-like "Becoming" as she was in what sounded like an African vernacular on "Shadowprint...," even, at times, creating her own fantasy language. With a voice possessing strength across the range, Tander also demonstrated fine command over dynamics, as did her group, which featured pianist Jeroen van Vliet (a member of Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash), bassist Cord Heineking and drummer Etienne Nillesen.

Tander proved a charismatic performer if not, at times, a little too visusally busy onstage, especially when Vliet was soloing, with the kind of soft nuance that demanded undivided attention rather than distraction. Heineking, too, took a solo mid-set, filled with gentle lyricism, while Nillesen focused on a kind of hand/stick hybrid approach that gave his kit, at times, the veneer of hand percussion.

If Tander's set was any indication, there will be plenty of demand for her forthcoming, 2011 debut.

December 3: Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash

As fine as the various performance spaces at Melkweg were, there were many challenges inherent in trying to get from showcase to showcase. Moving around the tight stairways between the rooms, it seemed as though there was always the distraction of bumping into someone. The mingling aspect of DJ&WM wast undeniably terrific, fostering new relationships that will clearly carry on after the event. Still, with such relatively unstructured environs, it was a difficult juggling act to find ways of both interacting with everyone and catching the numerous showcases. One showcase that, sadly was missed until a few minutes before its end was that of violinist Lenneke van Staalen, performing with tablaist Heiko Dijker and the Het Makalu Kwartet, a classical string quartet that brought a whole new complexion to van Staalen's clear affinity for Indian music. It was a brief exposure, but one that will ensure attention when she releases her debut next year.

Meanwhile, the final showcase in the Old Hall was reserved for trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and his electric Gatecrash quartet. For fans of retro-Rhodes and synth sounds, coupled with a more contemporary approach to electro-centric music in a continuum also occupied, at various points, by Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and Swiss-born/French-resident trumpeter Erik Truffaz, there was plenty to like about a set that drew heavily on the group's most recent disc, Heavens Above! (Challenge, 2009), and also from its sophomore disc, Hyper (Challenge, 2008)—in particular, keyboardist Jeroen van Vliet's anthemically melodic and viscerally grooving title track. The keyboardist who focused so heavily on grand piano with Simin Tander earlier in the evening, was an even deeper fountain of ideas with Gatecrash, mining otherworldly textures, ethereal harmonies and quirky thematic inventions on Fender Rhodes and synth, while Icelandic bassist Gulli Gudmundsson (now also a Dutch resident) and drummer Jasper van Hulten locked in hard when the pulse required, but opened the music up for greater interpretive exchange when the music demanded.

From left: Jeroen van Vliet, Eric Vloeimans, Gulli Gudmundsson

Vloeimans, whose acoustic tone is a thing of expansive beauty, fed his trumpet through a pedal board of effects, ranging from delays to harmonizers, and while use of such gear seems de rigueur these days, Vloeimans managed to retain a personal voice, at one point playing call-and-response with himself as he shifted from a pungent, pure tone to one harmonized for greater reach. As clearly virtuosic as Vloeimans is, and was during the performance, his inescapable technical strengths never overwhelm or overtake a clear respect for the essence of song. He introduced his own "Pèlerinage (Pilgrimage)" as a song about "a walk of many hours...just walking...walking," as a slow but relentless pulse providing the contextual backdrop for a gradually intensifying performance that, with van Vliet's Rhodes building from swelling chords to more percussive voicings, led to a dramatic and cathartic climax through a repetitive, two-chord, minor-keyed vamp, before signaling the journey's end in gradual diminishment and, ultimately, silence.

Unlike Hyper and the preceding Gatecrashin' (Challenge, 2007), Heavens Above! is a studio recording; live, Vloeimans and Gatecrash expanded on its larger repertoire of shorter pieces, pushing the melancholy melody and fierier solo section of "Floratone" to greater extremes, the trumpeter not just visually deep in the music during his own solos, but clearly enraptured when stepping back and handing the stage over to van Vliet, Gudmundsson and van Hulten, whose effortless command, transcendent touch and perfect interjections were a constant undercurrent throughout.

While Vloiemans has been to North America with his Fugimundi trio, Gatecrash has yet to make the trip. With a performance as strong as its 45-minutes at DJ&WM, it will be a surprise if some of the many delegates who traveled to Amsterdam for the meeting aren't already thinking of ways to get the group to make the Transatlantic trek.

DJ&WM Wrap-Up

With travel being severely impacted by inclement weather and, for some, an air traffic controller strike in Spain, there was considerable discussion as to whether or not anyone was going to make it out of Amsterdam the next day. There was hope, however, for some of the delegates, who chose to stay on an extra day to attend the left-of-center Doek Festival, taking place on December 4 at Amsterdam's world-renowned Bimhuis. Still, on the morning of December 4, there were plenty of goodbyes and plans to maintain contact amongst the many delegates who were leaving; some who'd made surprisingly long treks to DJ&WM considering its relatively brief duration.

Despite the density of this jampacked two-day, three-night meet, if an event is to be measured based on relationships forged/strengthened, and an increased appreciation for the broad cross-section of music that was really only able to scratch the surface of the effervescent Dutch scene, then there's little doubt that Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2010 was a triumphant success.

Visit Jasper Blom, Harmen Fraanje, Benjamin Herman, The Ploctones, Simin Tander, Lenneke van Staalen, Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash and Dutch Jazz & World Meeting on the web.

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 3: John Kelman

Other Photos: Hans Speekenbrink

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