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Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz (Special Edition)

Bruce Lindsay By

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Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz (Special Edition) Since Esquire voted alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman Best Dressed Dutchman 2008, most reviews of his music have felt compelled to mention the award, and this review is no exception. Of course, such sartorial fripperies would be barely worthy of comment if Herman couldn't actually play. But play he can—whether he's flying like Charlie Parker on "Hypochristmastreefuzz," blowing rhythm 'n' blues style on "Brozziman," or adding mournfully to the funereal sound of "Arm Weil."

Hypochristmastreefuzz was originally released in 2008—Herman's 13th album, and the second on which he reinterpreted the tunes of pianist/composer Misha Mengelberg. This "Special Edition" package adds a CD recorded live at the 2009 North Sea Jazz Festival, which mostly reprises tunes from the studio disc but also features two Herman originals: "Arachibutyrophobia" and "Do the Roach."

This album's atmosphere is of slightly irreverent, good-humored and inventive enjoyment. There's laughter and chatter on many of the tunes, not just on the live CD, and the level of energy on the studio tracks is a match for that on the live set. The set also impresses with the sheer variety of musical styles Herman and his band master across the two discs.

"Brozziman" is a rip-roaring R&B workout, given added authenticity on the studio version by Ernst Glerum's stabbing chords on the philicorda (an electronic organ made by the Philips company in Holland), as well as by his funky double-bass solo. The live performance is much looser: the philicorda is absent, but the bass solo remains, and Joost Patocka's high energy drumming drives the tune along. "Kwela P Kwana" is a lively kwela-inspired tune which Mengelberg dedicated to South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana. Both versions are upbeat, irresistibly danceable, performances.

In a more romantic vein there is "De Sprong O Romantiek Der Hazen," a gentle ballad with distinct echoes of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," even if its subject matter—the mating activities of hares—is a little different. The studio version features Ruben Hein's '40s crooner-style vocals, which fit perfectly with the atmosphere of the song, and a "string section" courtesy of Willem Friede's mellotron. Neither Hein nor Friede are on the live version: Anton Goudsmit's sustained guitar chords replace the "strings" and Herman's smoky and romantic alto playing takes over the vocal line. There's also some seemingly spontaneous, and uncredited, whistling.

Herman's original compositions are a joy. The bluesy "Do the Roach," which wouldn't seem out of place on a Cramps album, swings mightily thanks to Goudsmit's jagged, low-down guitar and the rhythmic skills of Glerum and Patocka. "Arachibutyrophobia"— the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth—moves from bop to swing to free-form and on to R&B, with Herman in particularly impressive form at every step.

Hypochristmastreefuzz is the work of a supremely talented, and elegant musician. It's also a ridiculously entertaining album, an emphatic reminder that some of the best jazz music encompasses humor as well as musical invention.

Track Listing: CD1: Hypochristmastreefuzz; Brozziman; No Idea; De Sprong O Romantiek Der Hazen; Rollo III; Kwela P Kwana; Blues After Piet; Wij Gaan Naar De Italliaan; Arm Wiel; Een Beetje Zenuwachtig; Interview with Misha Mengelberg. CD2: Een Beetje Zenuwachting; Arachibutyrophobia; De Sprong O Romantiek Der Haren; Do the Roach; Kwela P Kwana; Blues After Piet; Arm Wiel; Brozziman; Announcement.

Personnel: Benjamin Herman: alto saxophone; Anton Goudsmit: guitar; Ernst Glerum: bass, philicorda (2, 9); Joost Patocka: drums; Willem Friede: mellotron (4); Ruben Hein: vocals (4).

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Dox Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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