The New Dutch Swing players seem to have an affinity for fielding adventurous, midsize jazz/improvised music ensembles of 8-12 players. The ICP Orchestra and Willem Breuker Kollektief immediately spring to mind. But there are others including various ensembles headed by pianists Guus Janssen and Michiel Braam and trombonist Joost Buis' Astronotes. The interesting thing about these ensembles is that they tend to be very different from each other and have their own character. To this list we can now add these two superb bands.
Pianist/keyboardist Cor Fuhler is one of Holland's most intriguing musicians. As a pianist, he prepares his instrument in an effort to make it sound like anything other than a traditional piano. But he also has a keyboard menagerie that creates sounds as alien as any ever heard. And the Corkestra, nine members strong, make music equally as alien. Fuhler has assembled an ensemble of open-eared musicians from different genres: jazz (saxophonists Ab Baars and Tobias Delius, bassist Wilbert de Joode, drummers Michael Vatcher and Tony Buck), rock (guitarist Andy Moor), classical (flutist Anne La Berge) and the ringer, Nora Mulder on cymbalon, a Hungarian stringed instrument akin to a dulcimer. Mulder is an inspired choice and her instrument, along with Fuhler's clavinet and organ, are a big reason for this music's unique textures and this ensemble's individual sound.
The program alternates between warped, almost jaunty pieces ("Zand I , "Green Peppers ) and highly abstract numbers ("Triangle Sun , "Cosinus ). Sometimes this juxtaposition appears within a single track. "Lollipops/Woestijntrol starts with pointillist improvisation before an arpeggiated figure appears on cymbalon and guitar and over which a melody shared by flute and clarinets emerges. The disc reaches a grand climax of sorts on "Rockpool with a swelling of instruments on a chord progression that sounds as if it was ripped off from some Krautrock record. It keeps rising as Fuhler's cheesy organ noodles atop in triumph among cymbal crashes and braying horns. It will either bring a smile or a grimace to the listener's face but given this is one of the finest Dutch recordings of recent years, it will probably be the former.
Gravitones & Strings
Live At The Bimhuis
Equally unique yet sharing a similar mix of profundity and absurdity is Italian clarinetist Augusto Forti, a musician with close ties to the New Dutch Swing scene. He's been based in Amsterdam for the last decade or so and his band the Gravitones is made up of Holland's best (Han Bennink, de Joode, Buis) and other expatriates who have adopted the city as their home (cornetist Felicity Provan, tubist/trombonist Gregg Moore, again Vatcher).
Live at the Bimhuis is this band's second album and it finds the group emphasizing strings and textures over their prime instruments. For instance tubist Moore plays mostly banjo and mandolin and trombonist Joost Buis plays his secondary instrument, lap steel guitar. One might think the music is leaning toward an Americana sound but this is about as far from that as one could get. Many of the themes have a pentatonic modality of an Asian dimension but it's not very Asian either. It's as if all of these elements have been put through a blender and it comes out sounding very 'Dutch' (all the more strange since it is filtered through an Italian). Of course the jazz element is always somewhere underneath in this music, coming to the fore on the longest track, "Gasiform , with the leader's clarinet solo swinging lithely over Han Bennink's loping gait. Special mention too must be made of the fantastic cornet work of Australian expatriate Provan. Buis shows lap steel mettle (or is it metal) with an apocalyptic solo on "Twice Across The Table . As with the Corkestra album, it's a unique vision and there's little around that sounds quite like it. Both of these discs are well worth hearing and show Dutch improvising musicians still searching for new ways to make unique music and coming up aces.
Tracks: Zand I; Triangle Sun; Green Peppers; Zwerfduin; Lollipops/Woestijntrol; Dromedaris; Cosinus; Zand II; Zout I; Rockpool; Water Supply.
Personnel: Cor Fuhler: organ, clavinet, piano; Ab Baars: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Tobias Delius: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Anne LaBerge: flute; Andy Moor: guitar; Nora Mulder: cymbalon; Wilbert DeJoode: bass; Tony Buck: percussion; Michael Vatcher: percussion, singing saw, hammered dulcimer.
Live At The Bimhuis
Tracks: Gasaku; Gasuto; Gasiform; Gasonata; Twice Across The Table.
Personnel: Augusto Forti: clarinet, ukulele; Felicity Provan: cornet, tenor ukulele; Paul Pallesen: banjo, guitar; Gregg Moore: banjo, tuba, mandolin; Joost Buis: lapsteel guitar, trombone; Mary Oliver: violin; Tristan Honsinger: cello; Alex Waterman: cello; Meinrad Kneer: bass; Wilbert DeJoode: bass; Han Bennink: drums, percussion; Michael Vatcher: drums, percussion.