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Han Bennink: Nerve Beats

Derek Taylor By

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Throughout his variegated career Han Bennink has carved out a place for himself as one of the crowning clown princes of creative improvised music. When he’s behind a drum kit the general rule of thumb is: anything goes as long as it’s laced with self-effacing humor. Even on early gigs, such as the germinal one he took part in as a sideman with Eric Dolphy ( Last Date on Fontana) his idiosyncratic, and some might argue erratic, style was firmly in place. The sheer magnitude of his imagination and willingness to incorporate all ideas into his art no matter how harebrained or crackpot they might seem upon initial perusal makes the solo setting a perfect vehicle for his work.

Solo recordings by any artist run a high risk of exhausting listener interest and sustaining an album length program of music on one’s own can be a daunting task few musicians are up to both physically and creatively. Add to this the rhythmic nature of the drums and the possibility for a paucity of fresh ideas that avoid repetition can become even more pronounced. Bennink skirts the issue on this outing by incorporating a host of other instruments into his battery of expressive tools. His comparative proficiency on reed and brass instruments may be arguable, but on this solo date he incorporates them in intriguing ways, most effectively on the concluding “Nerve Beats” over repetitious rhythm-machine accompaniment. The disc’s three tracks may worry some listeners wary of paltry running times. But rest assured this is an album length work and the breadth of the pieces provides Bennink plenty of room to stretch out and allow his addled mind to bear succulent improvisatory fruit.

“Bumble Rumble” opens with a tsunami of press rolls, distantly recorded, that beat out a martial cadence punctuated by whistle blasts. The result reads like some cavernously captured fife and drum band bent on steamrolling the audience into submission. “Spooky Drums” is tour-de-force of percussive panoplies as Bennink hews a multifarious edifice of polyrhythms from any and all objects within reach. Later the gurgling brass drone of strangled trombone rises up fluctuating pitch like a didgeridoo. Still further on in the improvisation Bennink takes an unexpected turn on tabla, playing a convincing cycle of beats before picking out a fractured line on an unidentified stringed instrument. His wild vocalized snorts and shouts append many of the subsections of the piece and the audience is audibly uncertain as to when applause are appropriate. It’s all part of Bennink’s plan, keeping his listeners on edge in rapt anticipation of what strange series of sounds he’ll come up with next. There are occasional moments of lesser interest, a short spell where pre-recorded piano filters in while Bennink seems to be changing sticks being one, but these instances are usually transitory. Listening to the all the antics I couldn’t help recall a phrase on the sleeve of a Sunny Murray record on ESP (which eventually became the label’s credo)- ‘You Never Heard Such Sounds In Your Life.’ That emphatic directive applies equally well here as Bennink’s skull is uncapped and the capricious contents of his Bohemian brain are exposed for all to examine.


Track Listing: Bumble Rumble; Spooky Drums; Nerve Beats.

Personnel: Han Bennink: drums, tablas, trombone, clarinet, rhythm-machine, etc.

Title: Nerve Beats | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide

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