Since the making of his 2013 debut album, 15
, Dutch vibraphonist Vincent Houdijk
has released two live recordings, each showcasing a mix of songs both old and new. His quintet, aptly named VinnieVibes, consists of Floris van der Vlugt
on both alto and soprano saxophone, Gersom Raams on guitar, Sven Happel
on double bass/bass guitar, and Haye Jellema
on drums. One might think that in a country a third the size of New York, finding suitable musicians to occupy a vibe-led jazz band might prove challenging. But at 31, Houdijk clearly has the experience necessary to assemble and lead a group whose individual strengths mesh well harmonically.
Recorded in Rotterdam during July 2018 , all of the songs on Live At The North Sea Jazz Festival
are originals composed by Houdijk. Their night begins with the slow burning ballad "Moonshine." Gersom Raams has a sound all his own, and his solos tend to have a certain moody heft to them, both in this song and throughout the album. Following "Moonshine," the band moves through their set list with ease, whether it's the contemplative "Timeline" or the exotic, inventive "UY Scuti." The slightly surreal atmosphere of the latter fits well with its namesake, which is believed to be the largest star in our solar system.
The quintet veers slightly off course for the album's penultimate song, "Vortex." Houdijk swaps out his vibraphone for a MalletKat, giving the up tempo tune a modern edge without sounding out of place. It's interesting to see how this group of musicians adapt to any change of direction, and innovative is the word which best describes their unanticipated playing.
Dedicated to his brother, a fellow percussionist who sadly perished in a 1996 plane crash, "15" spends ten minutes slowly building up pressure before exploding into a wild ending. Houdijk claims he wrote the song during a period in which he was coming to terms with the tragedy. It has a contemplative groove, cascading up and down before finally submitting to some sort of catharsis in the form of a reckless, emotionally wrought finale. The musical equivalent of flinging all the furniture in a room at the walls in a whirlwind outburst, the entire band kicks into high gear for the last couple minutes, memorably finishing their set on a high note.
Taking a moment to be critical, it would have been nice to see the final song on the album take the expected move and finish with the warbling echo of Raam's guitar to the crowd's applause. Instead, he chose to end with a quiet fade out, a bit like watching a towering wave crash to the shore, without the benefit of seeing it wash away, reclaimed by the sea.
Regardless, Vincent Houdijk is a vibraphonist for the 21st century. At times sedate, at others wildly inventive, it seems as if he's attempting to redefine the instrument's place in contemporary jazz. Further commendable is that he manages to do so without the benefit of modern sound-manipulating computer software, instead opting to utilize VinnieVibes' unique European flair both in studio and on stage. While comparisons to vibe greats such as Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson are unfair today, there is little doubt that the talented young vibraphonist deserves and aspires to one day have the kind of recognition they enjoyed.