As a student in the 1980s, Dutch drummer-percussionist Joost Lijbaart first dreamt of making a solo album, inspired by the examples of Tony Oxley
, Pierre Favre
, Art Blakey
, Max Roach
and Jack DeJohnette
. A successful recording and touring career with Yuri Honing
and with his own groupsleft little time for such a focused project. In 2014, Lijbaart began to explore his long-stored ideas, but the take-off of Under The Surface
, an improvisational trio with vocalist Sanne Rambags
and multi- instrumentlaist Bram Stadhouders
meant heavy gigging on four continents over the next five years. In a strange twist of fate, the global coronavirus pandemic provided the pause that Lijbaart needed, inviting reflection on his life's journey in music, and just as significantly, the quieter inner journey.
A multi-layered colorist, Lijbaart has always been more concerned with textures, emotional ambiance and rhythmic language than virtuosity, and these qualities permeate the music on Free
. A classically trained percussionist, Lijbaart is as steeped in the vocabulary of John Cage
, Iannis Xenakis, Philip Glass
and Steve Reich
as he is in West African, Northern Indian and Middle Eastern music, and this rich stew of vocabulary equally colors his subtly melodic approach on these thirteen musical journeys. And what evocative journeys they are.
There is a suite-like continuity to the first three tracks, bound as they are by the constant presence of harmonium. A slow bass drum rhythm and harmonium drone underpin intermittent gong and glockenspiel on the "Strangers from the Sky," while bowed xylophone lends an ethereal, synthesizer-esque tone. "Velocity" sounds like an extension of the previous piece, with hurtling cymbal and jabbing snares riding long harmonium waves. Harmonium provides a more sombre, hymnal underbelly to "Corona Spiritual"a sparse coda to the restless meditations that precede it.
Jungle sounds introduce "Half Moon," giving way to dual balafons of distinctive tuning that weave hypnotic ostinatos beneath Lijbaart's percussive drive. Lively overlapping rhythms conjure West Africa on the brief but zesty "Niaga." Two vignettes draw inspiration from nature; "Twinkling Night" features rustling chimes, while the chirps, hoots and clicks of "Talking Trees" evoke crepuscular tropical forest. By comparison, "Dreamtime" and "Manhood" offer more conceptual soundscapes: the former balances ritual pulses a small shaker, the low boom of odaiko drumwith ghostly metallic accents; the latter juxtaposes meditative drone and slow-breathing melody with restless cymbal and snare accents.
In addition to bells, shakers, tubular bells and bird call, Lijbaart plays plaintive Native American flute on "Saman," another track of ritual meditative character. "Interstellar," which features Lijbaart's most limber drumming, and the arrhythmic "Free" both draw from Northern Indian music with their drones and hypnotically evolving, single- note melodies. Keenly attuned ears will perhaps pick up on Brazilian and Bolivian hand percussion here, crotales and Indonesian bamboo tubes there and, whilst certain geographies are overtly implied at times, the confluence of Lijbaart's multiple influences unfold organically, belonging to nowhere and everywhere, timeless, yet rooted to very specific times for the composer.
There is joy and a little melancholy in these solo conversations, a sense of spiritual yearning, an embrace of mystery and ultimately, a prevailing calm. Free
has been quite the journey for Lijbaart, and a beguiling one at that.
Strangers From The Sky; Velocity; Corona Spiritual; Half Moon; Twinkling Night; Dreamtime; Manhood; Talking Trees; Niaga; Saman; Interstellar; Solitude; Free.
Joost Lijbaart: gongs; cymbals; bells; hand percussion; harmonium; glockenspiel; balafon; vibraphone; odaiko drums; shaman drum & flute.