ToonDist is a Netherlands-based consortium of small independent labels distributing the creative and improvised music of their country. Founded in 2002, ToonDist is often the point of departure for unknown labels such as No Can Do Music and Pingo, and emerging ones like TryTone and Evil Rabbit. The closest ToonDist comes to "convention" may be the AVA Trio, The Core Trio live featuring Matthew Shipp (Evil Rabbit, 2016), or a book of Misha Mengelberg scores. At the outer edge we have Bo van de Graaf, a Dutch jazz saxophonist and composer, with Off the Record: Eccentric Music for Audio Hunters.
Van de Graaf began as a pianist, later taking up the saxophone and playing in the orchestra of Herman de Wit, who had worked with Mengelberg and Sonny Rollins. In the mid-1980s he founded the septet I Compani, specializing in jazz adaptations of the film scores of Italian composer Nino Rota (The Godfather (Paramount Pictures, 1972)). Van de Graaf has released four albums as a leader/co-leader and dozens through his ensembles.
With the full expectation of strange music befitting pieces featuring twenty-five car horns or dual hurdy-gurdy players, Off the Record is a surprisingly interesting find. Inspired by seasonal mistral winds blowing through southern France at up to one-hundred mph, the album opens with the twenty-minute opus, "Too Much Wind." Van de Graaf employs twenty-five wind instruments and three pianos in a sweeping, cinematic rollercoaster. Pianist Michiel Braam has a terrific solo on this piece. "The Freejazz Karaoke/SMS in Concert" has twenty musicians taking their cues from unusual sources. The parts for each instrument group are projected onto a screen while audience members text their improvised direction to the orchestra. Van de Graaf describes the results as "hilarious," but that's highly subjective. "I Don't Have a Record Player" is an arrangement for solo violin, played by Tessa Zoutendijk and fifteen female vocalists. Woven into the music are somewhat detached speaking parts from several classic actresses such as Brigette Bardot, Ursula Andress, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and others. It is a haunting experiment. "Wanderers Nachtlied & Altsax Impro" features a chamber choir performing a meditative work of the late Dutch classical composer Alexander Voormolen. The chorus fades away to Van de Graaf's superb alto saxophone improvisation.
Except for Voormolen's piece and a few brief samplings from George Gershwin and Astor Piazzolla, the music was composed by Van de Graaf. Off the Record's quirkier tracks such as "Kakafonissimo" (the car horns) and "The Freejazz Karaoke/SMS in Concert" are not to be skipped though they don't make for repeated listening. However, much of this recording sounds better and more memorable with each spin. Van de Graaf's love of film translates to his music and leaves intriguing images behind.
Too Much Wind; Kakafonissimo; Shukri; The Freejazz Karaoke/SMS in Concert; I Don't Have a Record Player; Wanderers Nachtlied & Altsax Impro; Howling at the Campfire.
Bo van de Graaf, Frans Vermeerssen, Frank Nielander, Marieke den Biesen, Angela Koopmans, Johan Gudden, Dick Troost, Stefan Litjens, Ewout Dercksen, Willem Booy-lievers, Rob Strick, Wouter van Bemmel, Jeroen Doomemik, Jan Gerritsen, Bert Duiverman, Hans Sparla, Bart van Dam, Kees de Wit, Rob van Huizen, Chris Adriaansen, Marcel Gorissen, Stephen Jacob, Paul Elshout, Gerard Taat, Peter Smaal, Michel Haen: wind instruments; ACN Automatori Club Novara: claxons (car horns); Merel Holleboom: assistant conductor; Ajli Deiwiks, Friedmar Hitzer, Jacqueline Hamelink, Aijen Gorter, Carel van Rijn, Rene Meeuws, Gaby Schreiner, Bram & Jasper Stadhouders: strings; Frank van Merwijk, Katrien Karimoen, Robert Vermeulen, Michel Mulder, Bart Lelivelt: keyboards; Henri Rijken: mallets; Jacqueline Hamelink, Simin Tander, Noéma Celeste Nijboer, l Chamber Choir Decanto: vocals, Rob Verdunnen, Fred van Duijnhoven, Makki van Engelen: drums.