Dutch Jazz & World Meeting
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
October 5-6, 2012
With Jazzahead! 2012
the annual European jazz trade fairdemonstrating 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 2012Music Export Netherlandsclearly 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 reasonsall 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 programmingwhich 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 performanceswas 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 Conservatorywhere 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 challengesincluding whether or not a DJ&WM of this scale could be put on again in 2014but 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 industryfans that include the industry professionals, since nobody is getting rich on this music and, therefore, must be doing what they're doing for other reasonswill 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
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 quartetnow also called Levantasyhas 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 playeras 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 musiciansperforming in sometimes brightly lit rooms like the Conservatory's Sweelinckzaal, oftentimes in the middle of the afternoon, and for at most 30 minutesand 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. Planjerstill recovering from a broken shoulder, though you'd know itcombined gently textured pulses on his kit with the goblet drum tombak.
Working primarily on English horn, Lachish explained the significance of the shofarall the more meaningful to the Israeli, with the Jewish High Holidays having just concludedprior 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 Rullera 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 restaurantanother opportunity to mix with DJ&WM delegatesa 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 aboundlike Norway's PELbO, a tuba-drums-voice pop trioKapok 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 instrumentsKapok also featured guitarist Timon Koomen and drummer Remco Menting. Perhaps most impressive was the group's reliance solo on its three membersits debut, Flatlands (Kytopia, 2012) (a mixture of composed and freely improvised pieces) featuring additional guests on half its ten tracksand, 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 Shilkloperthe Russian French hornist best known, perhaps, for his recordings with Ukraine-born pianist Misha Alperin on ECM, including 2008's Her First Dancewhich 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 configurationtrumpeter Gijs Levelt, saxophonist Tobias Klein, guitarist Jasper Stadhouders, bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Philipp Mosershared 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 Abbuehllast heard on Compass (ECM, 2006)and his own quartet recordings, also on ECMCurrents (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 impressiveGudmundsson 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 scriptedand in great detailyet allowed plenty of freedom within its constructs.
October 6 Afternoon: Conservatory
Opening the second afternoon series of showcases, pianist Amina Figarovawho, with husband/flautist Bart Platteau, relocated to New York City in 2011made a return to Amsterdam with her longstanding sextet, performing music from her latest release, Twelve (In + Out, 2012). An Azerbaijan expat, Figarova has been slowly building an impressive body of workincluding Come Escape With Me and September Suite (both Munich Records, 2005)built on a solid foundation of the American jazz tradition. Unlike many of the jazz acts showcased at DJ&WM, Figarova and her group know how to swing, and did so in an elegant and refined fashion.
Part of the secret of Figarova's success is the frontline she's chosen: saxophone (Marc Mommaas on Twelve, with Johannes Weidenmueller here) and trumpet (Ernie Hammes)especially on flugelhornblended beautifully with flute to create a distinctive frontline with enough brass to be sharp when needed, but softer, and more rounded when necessary. And Platteau, one of a very few musicians today for whom flute is their primary instrument, is an especially fine player, one who deserves broader recognition and might just get it, should flute ever come into vogue again. With bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Chris "Buckshot" Strik keeping things swinging, grooving and, at times, even pushing with a little light funk, Figarova has a group of strong soloists and empathic ensemble players that's been largely stable since Above the Clouds (Munich Records, 2008).
As a soloist, Figarova's touch is light, her solos combining lithe dexterity with flashes of muscularity; a female player who manages the yin and the yang, not unlike American bassist Marc Johnson. If ever there was a DJ&WM 2012 show that deserved to go on longer than 30 minutes it was this one; still, given that opportunities to catch Figarova and her wonderful sextet live are relatively rare (though the group has played 40 dates this year) , it was certainly a fine and very welcome half hour of mainstream-centric, elegant music from a composer and performer for whom relocation to the United States, based on Twelve, has clearly born tremendous fruit.
Boi Akih is a mutable group that ranges from duo to sextet, but the constants that give it its unique blend of composed song form and freewheeling improvisation are singer Monica Akihary and guitarist Niels Brouwer. For their DJ&WM 2012 performance, Akihary and Brouwer fleshed out to a quartet, with drummer Kim Weemhoff and, most notably, Wolter Wierbosa busy player who truly is one of the most distinctive trombonists alive today. Coming into the set a few minutes late, it took a few moments to recognize the song Boi Akih was singing, though it's one that has been interpreted in a jazz context before: singer/songwriter David Crosby's "Guinnevere," first heard a decade after trumpeter Miles Davis recorded it, on Circle in the Round (Columbia, 1979). With Brouwer on an acoustic, twin-necked harp-guitar, the quartet stayed close to its compositional framework while, at the same time, opening it up for more broad-based interpretation, in a take longer than that on the quartet's recent Circles in Square Society (Bromo, 2012).
The group also covered Jimi Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary," rather than Circles in Square Society's "A Merman I Should Turn to Be") and Bob Marley, in a particularly powerful "Redemption Song," that closed the set. In the midst of all this, passages of free play where Akihary proved an intriguing improvisational foilat times touching on scat, but more often than not relying on more unique and unusual vocal approaches. Wierbos, using mutes and just flat-out spontaneous creativity, was never less than perfect, whether he was dropping down into his instrument's lower register, to assume some kind of bass role, or soaring with nearly human-like articulations, turning his interactions with Akihary into some of DJ&WM's most compelling moments of connected chemistry. Brouwer was capable of greater beauty on his acoustic harp-guitar, but when he turned to electric his approach became far more angular and aggressive, while Weemhoff's ears were clearly open throughout the set, pushing hard as needed, but equally appropriate as a textural player.
The final show of the afternoon, before another trade dinnerthis time at Zouthaven, one of Bimhuis' restaurantswas The Nordanians, a trio comprised of violist Oene van Geel (who also performed earlier the same day with the intrepid Zapp 4 string quartet, whose forthcoming recording tackles the music of Radiohead), guitarist Mark Tuinstra and tablaist Niti Ranjan Biswas. Fans of guitarist John McLaughlin's longstanding East-meets-West explorations will be somewhat familiar with The Nordanians overall space, though what this trio does is more like a funky Shakti, blended with occasional electronics and, in contrast to McLaughlin's deeper spirituality, a greater sense of levity...humor, even.
Set up with van Geel stage right, Tuinstra stage left, and Biswas center stage on a riser towards the back, communication was key as the three maintained strong eye contact throughout the showcase set. Tuinstra may not be the legend that McLaughlin is, but neither was he a slouch, playing a more conventional rhythm guitarist role at time, something McLaughlin rarely does with Shakti, where he remains more closely aligned with Indian music's linear nature. That said, when it came to soloing, Tuinstra kept up with the clearly virtuosic van Geel, who has clearly studied Indian music and nailed its microtonal nature. In addition to being a fine tablaist, Biswas also performed Konnakol (Indian vocal percussion). A set highlight came when, with Biswas doing Konnakol, both Tuinstra and van Geel joined him, with something that, at times, approached Konnakol but other times was more akin to scat. The three built to a climactic pitch only to resume on their instruments to tremendous applause. Like Kapok the previous evening, The Nordanians made clear that serious music could also be fun.
October 6 Evening: Bimhuis
But no show was as entertaining as the 30-minute set from Tin Men & The Telephone, which opened DJ&WM 2012's final evening at Bimhuis. This evening there were two staggered showcase streams taking place: one in the main Bimhuis performance space, the other, downstairs in the Main Hallwhere the acoustics weren't as good but, at least, it was easy to move back and forth between the two venues, unlike 2010, where it was oftentimes virtually impossible.
A trio featuring pianist Tony Roe, bassist Lucas Dols and drummer Bobby Petrov, Tin Men & The Telephone's setup included a microphone and music stand center stage and, as the group took its place, Roe announced that their singer was late, but that they were going to go ahead without her. It became the running joke through a show that combined comedy and tough, tough charts for a 30-minute set where, as time went on, a telephone placed beside Roe continued to ring: sometimes the singer, informing the band that she was still on her way; other times, someone from a dry cleaner letting the trio know its clothes were ready.
What began as a conceit became something more when, midway through the set, the band began to play along with the dry cleaner's voice message in a style not unlike American drummer Dan Weiss did on his remarkable Timshel (Sunnyside, 2010), with a sequence of dialog between Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, from the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, turned into music, picking up on its intrinsic cadence.
From there, Tin Men continued with arrangements that were all the more remarkable for the lack of charts onstage, as a rear screen lit up with a field of cows who turned to look at each player as Roe and Petrov traded solos, positioned at opposite ends of the stage. Soon after, another phone call from the singer suggested they play "that song you like" and, as the group continued, the written music began to show up on the screen, note-by-note in time with the performance. As the set reached its conclusion, a computer screen came up and, as Roe began typing out the band introductions ("You have been listening to..."), complete with typos to be corrected with a backspace key, Roe mirrored it precisely on piano.
The performance was so engaging and so funny that it was easy to forget that this was also music of some depth, with twists and turns, tough to unravel knots and rhythmic stops and starts. As presenters flocked to the back of the room to meet with the group's management and, hopefully, pick up a copy of its debut, Moetjenou?! (RoeM Records, 2010), there was one final joke: at a time when vinyl is making a serious comeback, especially in Europe, Moetjenou?! was vinyl...or, at least, it appeared so, its 12x12 gatefold cover holding a piece of old vinyl, to which was attached the actual CD. Loaded with subterfuge and deflection, Tin Men & The Telephone were jokesters, right until the very end.
Fugara (DNL, 2012)recorded at a December, 2011 Bimhuis performanceis the debut from a new group of names ranging from well-known to deserving of greater recognition. Alto saxophonist Paul Van Kemenade will be, perhaps, familiar to ECM fans who have 1989's Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, conducted by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach. Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari will also be known to fans of the German label for Kuára: Psalms and Folk Songs (ECM), a recording that, with pianist Samuli Mikkonen and Norwegian trumpeter/singer Per Jorgensen, was one of 2010's best recordings. Trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, son of classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and a composer in his own right, will also be known to ECM followers for his late '80s group Aparis, as well as Karta (ECM, 2000), an outstanding record with bassist Arild Andersen and percussionist Patrice Héral, and featuring guest guitarist Terje Rypdal; that same trio would continue to record with guitarist Ferenc Snetberger, last heard on Joyosa (Enja, 2004), and with pianist Vladislav Sendecki on the two-disc live set, Electric Treasures (Aktivarium, 2008).
Pianist Stevko Busch was the least-known of the bunch, but acted as prime motivator behind the project's formation, also producing the recording. Together with van Kemenade, Busch released the duo recording Contemplation: On Songs, Russian Chants, Miniatures (DNL, 2010), the conceptual precursor to Fugara, with its emphasis on Russian chants. Busch recently wrote, "My goal is to dive into 'European roots,' so to speak, which brought me to Russian chants, and there are more doors. With Fugara I'm able to walk through some of them." The addition of Stockhausen and Ounaskari allowed the quartet to demonstrate a moving ability to respect its spiritual sources while, at the same, time expanding upon its foundations. Choosing material from the recording (largely originals from Busch, Stockhausen and Kemenade, with one group composition/improv and a cover of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Mountain"), the quartet opened with the trumpeter's melancholic "Mondtraum," with Ounaskari's textural approach and Busch's arpeggiations creating a context for Kemenade and Stockhausen's flowing, interweaving linesboth scored and improvised.
Busch's "Cheruvimi" was an understated highlight of the set, a delicate tone poem that was largely a duo with the finessed Ounaskari, as the pianist quietly whistled its soft melody. There's a lot about Fugara that could make it an appropriate act for ECM; whether or not that happens with the quartet's subsequent work, its showcase at DJ&WM 2012 suggested plenty of potential yet to be tapped.
After Fugara's sublime set, Rubatong came as something of a shock. John Gilbreathdirector of Seattle's Earshot Festival (who acted as master of ceremonies, introducing the acts in Bimhuis' performance space on both evenings) suggested, after the curious but compelling quartet's showcase, it wasn't in any way jazz, but did it really matter? Put together by Han Buhrsan alum of post-Punk band The Ex with bassist Luc Ex, another member of Rubatong the singer also tapped into the contemporary classical world for percussionist Tatiana Koleva (here playing percussion and vibes) and guitarist Renévan Barneveld, a member of the rap-meets-rock group Urban Dance Squad.
It was a strange combination, and yet it workedand worked extraordinarily well. A hint of Captain Beefheart once more reared its head, with Buhrs ranged from spoken word to screams and from singing to shouting, all delivered with a crazy, spasmodic kind of dance move. Attitude dominated, with lyrics that were largely sung in English, contrary to the mix of English, German, Dutch, French and, as the program notes call it, "self-made German" on the group's 10-track CD. While scratchy electric guitar and visceral slide would seem to be a strange partner for bowed vibraphone, Rubatong managed to bring together a series of strange bedfellows for a set that rocked hard, but also worked more delicate textural plains. And while her background may have been in contemporary classical music, Koleva's strange percussion rig worked hand-in-glove with Ex's heavily amplified acoustic bass guitar for a set that may not have been anything remotely like jazz...but who cared? Certainly not the audience, which gave the group one of the most powerful responses of any showcase at DJ&WM 2012.
Closing DJ&WM 2012at least in Bimhuis' main performance venuerenowned cellist Ernst Reijseger, rising star pianist Harmen Fraanje and vocalist/percussionist Mola Sylla delivered a showcase that featured music from their upcoming Winter&Winter soundtrack to Werner Herzog's 2010 3D documentary, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. Reijseger and Sylla have worked together for some years, and the cellist has long been known for his passionate improvisational skills and longstanding working relationship with Herzog, but with Fraanjeknown for his own trio work and his collaboration with trumpeter Eric Vloeimans in Fugimundithis trio adopts a more expansive stance, one predicated in spontaneity but within the framework of classically tinged, occasionally Afro-centric composed structures.
With Sylla beginning on mbira (thumb piano), the trio opened with a song of almost childlike naïveté, the percussionist singing in his native Wolof as Reijseger's pizzicato and Fraanje's spare chordal accompaniment created a soft, warm cushion. While never exactly moving into aggressive territory, when Sylla began roaming the stage and singing, things did turn a little harder, as he began to shout out, not unlike Norwegian trumpeter Per Jørgensen and his vivid vocalization. Reijseger is one of just a few cellists who can improvise at this level, with soaring lines that orbited in, out and around Fraanje, who is emerging as one of the most impressive young European pianists of the past decade. Towards the end of the set, Reijseger took a particularly impassioned solo, made all the more so as he suddenly linked, lock-step, with Fraanje for the composition's repetitive, minimalist-tinged arpeggiated motif, and Sylla approached Fraanje, shouting loudly and gesticulating wildly.
It was surprisingly powerful stuff for a cello/piano/voice trio, and an ideal end to DJ&WM 2012's showcase series in its combination of freewheeling lyricism with a broad emotional palette, and its distinctive blend of African vibe and classical ambience.
With the showcases over, those who weren't leaving at an uncivilized time the following morning headed off to the North Sea Club for the DJ&WM after-party. But whether folks headed back to the hotel for a couple hours' sleep before an early flight, or had the next day in Amsterdam to go on a planned boat trip, the real work of DJ&WM 2012 was done. Meetings were had, seminars were attended, new connections made, existing ones reinforced and plenty of music was heardall in a relaxed and largely informal context. The future of DJ&WM may be in jeopardy, with the closing down of Music Export Netherlands, but hopefully feedback provided from the attendees will make it clear that events like these are absolutely essential, if The Netherlands is to maintain a commitment to seeing its cultural contributions to the world exported beyond its own borders .
It's events like this that help introduce so many fine artists and collectives to the world at large, and if this were to be the last Dutch Jazz & World Meeting, while presenters from around the world will, of course, keep tabs on the scene and continue to bring Dutch artists to their events, they'll absolutely be working at a disadvantage, as this two-day/three-night event serves an important role in ensuring many artists, who might not be heard otherwiseespecially in a time when filtering up through the volume of new music being made each and every month is making it next to impossible to keep trackget a proper opportunity for exposure to an international audience that can truly help move their careers forward.
There's no doubt that the reason behind why most presenters, journalists and other industry folks do what they do is out of passion for the music; but that said, they still need events like this to help them connect with what's going on in the world, and if that's to be the ultimate measure of DJ&WM's successhow many of the artists are actually booked or written aboutthen there's no doubt that this much-improved Dutch Jazz & World Meeting will turn out to be an unqualified success.
All Photos: John Kelman