Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2012: October 5-6, 2012

Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2012: October 5-6, 2012
John Kelman By

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Dutch Jazz & World Meeting
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
October 5-6, 2012
With Jazzahead! 2012—the annual European jazz trade fair—demonstrating that jazz is, if not exactly big business, then certainly bigish business, it's no surprise to find that The Netherlands' biannual Dutch Jazz & World Meeting is making the same salient point, albeit more narrowly focused on a single country's contribution to music that may be niche in relative terms, but remains significant enough to warrant this kind of attention. An event that brings hundreds of presenters, media, management, publicists and other industry folks from around the world to Amsterdam for an intensive two-day/three-evening mix of seminars, information market and showcase performances, the organizers of DJ&WM 2012—Music Export Netherlands—clearly took criticisms of the 2010 edition to heart, and made a number of welcome changes.
As good as DJ&WM 2010 was in terms of exposure to the surprising breadth and depth of a music scene in a country of just under 17 million, it was organizationally a bit of a nightmare, and for a number of reasons—all of which seem to have been addressed. First, the event took place in early December, 2010 and, while that shouldn't have been a problem in the relatively temperate Amsterdam, the freak snow storm that shut down much of Europe, including London's Heathrow Airport for over a week, turned it into something of a travel disaster for at least some of the attendees. Moving the meeting to early October ensured that, while fall had certainly set in and there was plenty of rain to keep attendees indoors for much of the time, it was far less problematic.

The daytime programming—which included the two-room, 60+ booth information market, two keynote addresses, a series of seminars focusing on specific countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium and Germany, and the first of each day's showcase performances—was moved from an older venue to the newer, Conservatorium van Amsterdam. An open, spacious building, it eliminated the congestion of the previous venue, as well as offering a more appealing restaurant area for meeting, eating and hanging; two performance spaces that, while not necessarily absolutely ideal for sound, were a major improvement; and two large basement rooms that were perfect for the information market. The venue was also a relative stone's throw away from Bimhuis, the legendary Dutch jazz venue (well, the second, opened in 2005 to replace the original structure), another major improvement for DJ&WM 2012.

2010's Melkweg Cinema may have had more rooms than Bimuis (which really has only one, though a second space was used on the second evening to allow two staggered performance streams), but despite more actual shows taking place, difficulties in navigating through the congested hallways and staircases meant that less music was actually heard than in 2012. Bimhuis also offered better sound (at least in the main room) and better lighting/multimedia possibilities, allowing a group like Tin Men & The Telephone to put on a musically compelling but thoroughly hilarious performance on the final night.

If there was a misstep for 2012, it was the accommodations provided to delegates. While the idea of using boat hotels on the canal that abuts Bimuis sounded like fun, they turned out to be anything but. The rooms were smaller than small (beds too small for a six-foot person), with wet-style bathrooms that took hours to drain and a single power outlet, so high on the wall that those without extension cords had to be creative in order to use them; the breakfasts were barely average; and, most importantly (everything else could be forgiven), no WIFI was available. In a time when most delegates simply need to be connected, the lack of web access in the hotel meant that time had to be spent doing emails and other business at the Conservatory—where delegates should have been more exclusively focused on DJ&WM.

But, in relative terms, the accommodation issue was minor, since delegates weren't spending a lot of time in their rooms. What was, perhaps, the more distressing issue for DJ&WM was news that, as of January 1, 2013, Music Export Netherlands would cease to be. The overall feeling, amongst foreign delegates, was that a newer, smaller replacement organization, already in the works, would present some challenges—including whether or not a DJ&WM of this scale could be put on again in 2014—but that the passion that drives the jazz industry in The Netherlands means that some way, somehow, the scene will continue to exist.

Recent economic troubles in the European Union may be challenging business as usual for the arts, but the clear support of DJ&WM 2012's delegates made it clear that this music will continue to be made, that the artists will continue to find outlets for that work, and the fans which drive the industry—fans that include the industry professionals, since nobody is getting rich on this music and, therefore, must be doing what they're doing for other reasons—will continue to bring Dutch artists to festivals, club dates and other events in countries ranging from Canada to Indonesia, the United States to Japan, and locations all around Europe.

  • October 5 Afternoon: Conservatory
  • October 5 Evening: Bimhuis
  • October 6 Afternoon: Conservatory
  • October 6 Evening: Bimhuis
  • Wrap-Up

  • October 5 Afternoon: Conservatory

    Following New York Times jazz journalist Ben Ratliffe's intriguing keynote speech on how changes in the way music can be accessed are changing the way we listen to it, participating on a panel about the challenges for Dutch musicians to get work in the United States, and time spent checking out a variety of labels and artists in the Info Market, it was time to hit the afternoon series of showcases in one of two rooms at the Conservatory: the darker, more intimate Blue Note and brighter Sweelinckzaal.

    Since releasing its 2010 debut, Levantasy (Kepera Records), the Kepera Trio, with guest Yoram Lachish, has been exploring what it calls "East-West Intercultural Adventures in Music." While its purview is different, the quartet—now also called Levantasy—has at least some roots in the music of longtime panculturalist group Oregon, at least from a textural perspective. With Lachish playing oboe, English horn and ethnic instruments that, in the group's DJ&WM showcase, included the Hebrew shofar (ram's horn), the connection to Oregon's reed multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless was hard to ignore, though Lachish was, of course, a completely different player—as was the rest of the group, despite the Kepera Trio's Rembrandt Frerichs (piano), Tony Overwater (double bass) and Vinsent Planjer (drums/percussion) mirroring the American group in configuration.

    But that's where the similarities ended. Showcase performances are inherently challenging for musicians—performing in sometimes brightly lit rooms like the Conservatory's Sweelinckzaal, oftentimes in the middle of the afternoon, and for at most 30 minutes—and so they must be assessed on a different set of merits. Obviously the quality of the performance is key; but so, too, is whether or not the group manages to get exactly what it is across in so short a time. Despite its short duration, Levantasy's showcase managed to highlight the individual strengths of its four members, while also making clear the delineation of the group and why it should be considered by presenters as a possible group to bring to events around the world.

    The 35 year-old Frerichs also leads his own trio (which also includes Planjer), with its latest CD, Continental (Challenge, 2012) released earlier in the year. With classical music a significant touchstone for the Edison-nominated pianist, here his elegant touch and open ears were directed towards a more global purview, meshing seamlessly with Lachish's similar blend of virtuosic intent and underlying lyricism. Overwater, who also works with saxophonist Yuri Honing (to perform later that evening), proved both firm anchor and melodic foil, with his late-in-the-set bass solo but one of a number of highlights to the group's short performance. Planjer—still recovering from a broken shoulder, though you'd know it—combined gently textured pulses on his kit with the goblet drum tombak.

    Working primarily on English horn, Lachish explained the significance of the shofar—all the more meaningful to the Israeli, with the Jewish High Holidays having just concluded—prior to Levantasy closing its set on a high note, with a compelling blend of middle eastern tonalities, impressionistic tendencies, soft rhythms and, most importantly, in-the-moment spontaneity.

    If Levantasy was gentle, melodic and impressionistic, Pumporgan rocked out with a hard edge, in-your-face kind of expressionism. A quintet with a clear touchstone in the avant-edged, freewheeling music of Captain Beefheart, Pumporgan was led by bass guitarist/alto saxophonist Dirk Bruinsma, who composes the group's music. Also featuring guitarist/bassist Jeroen Kimman, organist Wilbert Bulsink, baritone saxophonist Christian Ferlaino and drummer Nout Ingen Housz, the group's performance blended quirky, episodic writing with "where's the one" mixed-metered rhythms, commanding attention with a combination of punk attitude and unfettered improvisational abandon.

    One of the highlights of DJ&WM 2010 was saxophonist Jasper Blom's quartet set with guitarist Jesse van Ruller, performing material from the recently released Dexterity (Mainland, 2010). That quartet has a new release, the third in the triptych, Gravity (Mainland, 2012), but for DJ&WM 2012 the focus turned to van Ruller and one of his own projects, the appropriately named Chamber Tones Trio. Also featuring Vienna Art Orchestra clarinetist/bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs and double bassist Clemens van der Feen (heard at DJ&WM 2010 with pianist Harmen Fraanje), the group's sophomore release, The Ninth Planet (C-String, 2012) is just out, following Chambertones (C-String, 2010).

    With its lineup, it was hard not to think of reed multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Giuffre's mid-1950s trio with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ralph Pena, a comparison made all the more vivid by Ruller's clean, hollowbody tone. Still, while never wasting a note, van Ruller is an overall busier player than the more spartan Hall, and his ability to create an unrelenting sense of forward motion, bringing together propulsive single-note lines and chordal support in ways that most groups would require two guitarists to execute, made him a clear focal point for the trio. Knotty motifs, sometimes mirrored in unison by all three players, combined with surprisingly strong grooves for a set that was one DJ&WM 2012's clear high points. The entire trio is strong, but it's van Ruller—a leader in his own right with a surprisingly large discography for someone so relatively young (having just turned 40 this year)—who was the most eminently impressive member, a true virtuoso who never sacrificed spontaneous compositional focus in his solos for excess technical wizardry.

    October 5 Evening: Bimhuis

    Following a Chinese buffet at the pagoda-like Sea Palace restaurant—another opportunity to mix with DJ&WM delegates—a full evening was programmed at the nearby Bimhuis. First up was pianist Ramon Valle, performing music from Flashes from Holland (RVS, 2011), an album that also featured guitarist Jesse van Ruller along with double bassist Omer Rodriguez Calvo and drummer Owen Hart, Jr.. Neither Ruller nor Hart were on hand for the Cuban expat's showcase, which instead featured young up-and-comer Reinier Baas on guitar and Julio Barreto on drums.

    Baas' grittier approach and Barreto's more frenetic kit work gave Vallé's showcase a different kind of energy to the equally fine recording, one that harkened back a tad, perhaps, to guitarist John Scofield's Live (Enja, 1977), featuring pianist Richie Beirach, with a similar kind of fire. Vallé was instantly impressive, a seemingly endless flow of ideas from the get-go, bolstered by Barreto's fiery and Calvo's unshakable support, while Baas' solos were a quirky combination of jazz traditionalism and unmistakable post-modernism. That's not to say the album doesn't smoke; the nearly 10-minute "Van Gogh Letters" runs the gamut from rubato tone poem to an incendiary second section where Vallé's linear dexterity and chunky chords push the tune to a powerful climax. But live, it just about ripped the roof off the Bimhuis, and concluded a set that set a high bar for the rest of the evening.

    By contrast, Kapok delivered a set that proved it's possible to make music that's got depth and entertainment value. In a time when unusual instrumental configurations abound—like Norway's PELbO, a tuba-drums-voice pop trio—Kapok may win the award for one of the most eclectic. Largely led by Morris Kliphuis, whose French horn is bested only, perhaps, by the bassoon as one of the most difficult improvising instruments—Kapok also featured guitarist Timon Koomen and drummer Remco Menting. Perhaps most impressive was the group's reliance solo on its three members—its debut, Flatlands (Kytopia, 2012) (a mixture of composed and freely improvised pieces) featuring additional guests on half its ten tracks—and, unlike pelBo, not on a lot of looping or other effects processing. Instead, the trio combined New Orleans second line with hints of rock 'n' roll, in a short set that was as fun to watch as it was to hear, with Koomen surprisingly static for a guitarist, but Kliphuis moving around the stage with rock star moves, maintaining inter-group communication at all times.

    It wasn't all rock posing, however; a highlight of the set was Kliphuis' gentle, melancholy ballad "Arkadia," dedicated to Arkady Shilkloper—the Russian French hornist best known, perhaps, for his recordings with Ukraine-born pianist Misha Alperin on ECM, including 2008's Her First Dance—which contrasted with the rest of the set's more upbeat writing. Left to fill in so much of the harmonic space, Koomen may not have had a real opportunity to demonstrate his worth, but Kliphuis was consistently impressive. Whether or not Kapok has enough traction for sustainability has yet to be seen, but with the trio winning the 2012 Dutch Jazz Competition and already performing more than 50 shows this year, it certainly has more than a fair chance.

    If Kapok had rock attitude in its visuals, Spinefex Quintet had it in power and sheer visceral energy. An offshoot of the larger Spinefex Orchestra, this configuration—trumpeter Gijs Levelt, saxophonist Tobias Klein, guitarist Jasper Stadhouders, bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Philipp Moser—shared some similarities with Pumporgan, though its touchstones reside more in new and improvised music. With soloing of utter abandon, Spinefex was still driven by idiosyncratic and complex compositional constructs, where challenging unison lines and stop/start rhythms were juxtaposed with passages of more complete freedom. Adventurous yet still with potent (albeit knotty) grooves to latch onto, Spinefex Quintet has yet to release a record, but if its Bimhuis performance was an indication, that's a crime that should be fixed...and soon.

    Saxophonist Yuri Honing is another player with plenty of attitude; one that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. When he played with his electric Wired Paradise in Penang in the fall of 2011, it didn't work; here at the Bimhuis, with his Acoustic Quartet, it absolutely did. Dressed in a red jacket and roaming the stage with a kind of noirish attitude that matched the music, not everyone can pull this kind of attitude off, but Honing did.

    Part of the reason for his success is, of course, his group. Pianist Wolfert Brederode has been on the ascendancy since work with singer Susanne Abbuehl—last heard on Compass (ECM, 2006)—and his own quartet recordings, also on ECM—Currents (2008) and Post Scriptum (2011). Here, with Honing's approach spare and spacious, Brederode was, in many ways, the quartet's most dominant voice, though bassist Gulli Gudmundsson (heard at DJ&WM 2010 as a member of trumpeter Eric Vloeimans' electric Gatecrash group) and drummer Joost Lijbaart (also a member of Wired Paradise) were no less impressive—Gudmundsson all the more so for his being called to the gig at relative last moment.

    The set was dark, spare and impressionistic, ranging from the simple pulse of "True," with Lijbaart using little more than a snare drum and a large bass drum up on a stand, to "Paper Bag," with Brederode creating muted patterns inside the piano box. It was a captivating performance of music from True (Challenge, 2012), performed by a group that certainly deserves to be heard outside of Europe.

    Dutch pianist/composer Michiel Braam has his fingers in a lot of pies these days, what with his Bik Bent Braam, Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher, eBraam and Flex Bent Braam. Somewhere between the larger Bik Brent Braam's thirteen pieces and Flex Bent Braam's septet sits his Hybrid 10tet, which brings together a curious combination of classical string quartet with tuba, trumpet, bass guitar and French horn (Kapok's Morris Kliphuis}}. As eclectic as it gets, the 10tet performed music from On the Move (BBB, 2011), including "The Indonesian Refuge" and the lengthy and appropriately titled "Cuba," where Braam soloed, supported by the string quartet's lush backdrop, with a strange blend of stylistic authenticity and forward-reaching modernism. It was an odd configuration of music that was clearly scripted—and in great detail—yet allowed plenty of freedom within its constructs.



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