Joost Lijbaart: Under The Surface

Mark Sullivan By

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Dutch drummer Joost Lijbaart (known for his work with Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing) first performed with this trio at the request of vocalist Sanne Rambags, along with guitarist Bram Stadhouders (known for his work with the Netherlands chamber choir, American drummer Jim Black and Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen). At the time Rambags was twenty years old, Stadhouders thirty, and Lijbaart fifty, so the band could truly be described as a "three generations band."

The group immediately established enough openness and trust to play completely improvised concerts. After recording their debut album (released under Lijbaart's name) the band began playing a series of live shows. After two years of touring around the world they released a second album drawn from those performances. Their music is not exactly jazz or World Music, but shares a "calling up the spirits" feeling with ethnic music.

Joost Lijbaart
Under The Surface
Challenge Records

The debut album is a largely acoustic affair. Stadhouders plays synthesizers, but is mainly heard on acoustic guitar. Sanne contributes lyrics, along with whispering, talking and singing; and Lijbaart's drums and percussion add both rhythm and texture. The improvisational chemistry is immediately apparent on opener "Silent Conversation," a sparse interplay of whispering, recitation (the title is taken from a line in the poem), and gentle percussion. Lijbaart introduces a ride cymbal pulse to begin "Above" (later adding drums), which also prominently features acoustic guitar. More rhythmically grounded, but the vocals floating above still give it an ethereal quality.

"Dream Cave" finds the vocal with lyre (a small harp) accompaniment from Stadhouders and gongs. It's not all airy, as "Adem" builds up to a rhythmic and textural climax. A few of the tracks feature compositions by group members. Rambags takes a solo turn on "Kyrie" (where she sings unaccompanied) and "Sibylla" (with atmospheric band accompaniment). Lijbaart does the same on "Going Native" (with the whole band building up quite a head of steam), while Stadhouders is featured on "Before."

There is no clear aural distinction between the freely improvised material and the composed. Both showcase a group with a distinctive collective voice.

Under The Surface
Challenge Records

For Trinity the trio took the debut album's title as a group name, and compiled several live performances from 2018. It's a bigger, more expansive sound, with Stadhouders' electric guitar and electronics taking a large role, and Lijbaart frequently pushing the improvisations into a more rhythmic space. Opener "La Loba -Part One" demonstrates all of these changes: during its ten minutes (longer than any tracks on the first album) it moves from languid rubato atmospherics to rhythmically charged playing, then back again for another cycle. But different the second time. "You Will Rise" showcases Rambags singing her poem unaccompanied, but after a brief introduction "Moksha" has a steady rhythm all the way, driven by drums and guitar with electronics (recalling a player like Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset).

"La Loba -Part Two" has the closest thing to a guitar solo in the set, echoing patterns ringing out over the drums until an ecstatic vocal joins in. The energy dissipates in classic free jazz fashion: the piece just falls apart gradually. "The Dance of Life" (the longest track at over 12 minutes) opens with a quote from Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, then slowly explores Rambags' poem, led by her folksong-like singing, and ending with a dance rhythm. "Hjemme" stands out as the only track where Stadhouder plays charango (a small Andean lute: listeners may recall the sound from the Simon and Garfunkel song "El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)"). "Calling up the Spirits" could be the group's theme song, moving from gentle beginnings to a huge climax.

This music has elements from all over the world: the Sami folk tradition; African chanting and rhythms; Central and South America; and contemporary jazz, including the use of electronics. Often the sound calls to mind other genre-defying musicians like Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, or even eclectic vocalist/composer Meredith Monk.

Tracks and Personnel

Under The Surface

Tracks: Silent Conversation; Above; Dream Cave; Adem; Together; Kyrie; After Silence; Under The Surface; Sibylla; Going Native; Before.

Personnel: Joost Lijbaart: drums, percussion; Sanne Rambags: vocals; Bram Stadhouders: acoustic guitars, lyre, synthesizers, additional percussion (1).


Tracks: La Loba -Part One; You Will Rise; Moksha; La Loba -Part Two; Aurora; The Sun Rises in the East; The Dance of Life; Wild; Hjemme; Calling up the Spirits; Lapis Lazuli; Chime.

Personnel: Joost Lijbaart: drums, percussion; Sanne Rambags: vocals, poetry; Bram Stadhouders: guitar, electronics, charango (9).

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