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Chris Abelen

trombonist, composer & bandleader

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Dutch trombonist Chris Abelen (Tilburg, the Netherlands 29 september 1959) started out on trumpet at 11, switching to the bigger horn at 18. He studied classical trombone with Charles Toet and Henri Aarts, and then jazz and improvised music with Willem van Manen, founding member of and first trombonist with the Willem Breuker Kollektief, the band that first called global attention to Dutch improvised music. In 1984, Abelen took over van Manen’s old chair in the Kollektief from short-timer Garrett List, and would tour and record extensively with that band till 1988.

But Abelen had the urge to lead his own groups. At Willem Breuker’s annual Klap op de Vuurpijl festival in 1992, he led a pan-generational, pan-stylistic international tentet (including Ab Baars and Paul Termos in the reeds, tubist Larry Fishkind and Michael Vatcher on drums), showcasing the players with mini-concertos that demonstrate Abelen’s preoccupations with color, texture and mood, as well as his wry indirect sense of humor. The proof’s on the CD Proost (BVHaast).

But that was a one-shot ensemble. Abelen wanted a band. His first post-WBK working group had been a sextet including tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius and bassist Wilbert de Joode, which debuted on an earlier Klap op de Vuurpijl festival (1989). That evolved into a quartet with drummer Martin van Duynhoven—you can hear that lineup on the live title track to Abelen’s 2011 digital sampler Plint—later replaced by Charles Huffstadt. With the Proost tentet’s Corrie van Binsbergen added on electric guitar, this group became the leader’s signature outfit, the Chris Abelen Quintet, another band of distinct individual voices. The pieces could be highly melodic and/or densely busy, and the spontaneous arrangements were fluid, with no fixed solo routines. The composer/leader functioned as traffic cop on trombone: setting the tempos, calling back the melodies. A few pieces from the Quintet’s 1996 debut Dance of the Penguins return on 1999’s What a Romance, to make plain that fluidity and instant arranging. The 2004 follow-up Space was for another tentet: the Quintet plus Ab Baars on clarinet and the Zapp String Quartet.

Over the years Chris Abelen has also toured and recorded with numerous Dutch jazz and new music ensembles, including Willem van Manen’s Contraband, I Compani, Paradise Regained Orchestra, Eric van der Westen Octet, Dick de Graaf Septet, and J.C. Tans + Rockets. After leaving the Willem Breuker Kollektief, he assisted Breuker in preparing parts for performance and scores for publication. As an outgrowth of that work, Chris now works as a professional engraver, serving publishers such as Boosey & Hawkes (London), Donemus and Universal; orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Asko/Schönberg Ensemble and Metropole Orchestra; and other composers including Louis Andriessen, Martijn Padding, Willem Jeths, Geert van Keulen, Elmer Schönberger and Bernard van Beurden.

In the 2010s, Abelen took his music in a new direction. In 2016 he released his sixth album, A day at the office, for a septet with a new line-up, and a slightly more pop and even funk orientation, despite the instrumentation: trumpeter Angelo Verploegen, Floris van der Vlugt and Tini Thomsen on high and low reeds, and a new guitar/bass/drums rhythm section: Thijs Huijbens, Ulrich Wentzlaff-Eggebert and Yonga Sun. This album is part of a new project in which Abelen collaborates with lyricist/librettist Bastiaan Geleijnse, one of the cartoonists behind the acclaimed Dutch newspaper comic Fokke en Sukke. In 2018 came the sequel Songs on the eve of dismissal, with vocals by Lorena del Mar (Abelen’s first record with a singer). The Chris Abelen 7’s Live at the BIM (2020) is drawn from a June 2019 concert at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, featuring songs from the latter album; performances from that concert are posted on YouTube and Vimeo.

Other new albums were in the pipeline when the global pandemic hit in 2020: The joy of an empty trash can for a new quintet, The audience is growing for solo trombone, and a final version of the project Bye Bye Bloomingdale, previewed on a trombone-and-samples singles released in 2018.

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