On the recently released Ancesthree, Belgian alto saxophonist Ben Sluijs led a heartfelt, swinging session of bop-based chamber jazz. Now, on True Nature, Sluijs and his top-shelf European quartet tackle a program of post bop and free music, and the results are delightful.
With a front line of two saxophonists and no chording instrument, the lineup of the Sluijs band recalls Ornette Coleman's great quartet of 1970-71, which included Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell. And indeed, Ornette exerts a substantial, yet benign influence on Sluijs' music, particularly on the joyous up-tempo tunes "3 Times Nothing" and "Happy Widow." The latter performance, with its exuberant swing, is the one that most recalls Ornette. Yet Sluijs is clearly his own man, with his own rich, full sound and his own individuated ideas. The Belgian altoist delivers exhilirating swing as he juggles long lines, riffs, and unmetered phrases to construct a superb improvisation.
As the program unfolds, it reveals a lot of variety. For instance, "Old Demons" is a blues in which Sluijs plays another fine improvisation, this time using some boppish ideas. "Major Step" features a furious, free, very good tenor saxophone solo by Jeroen Van Herzeele, who is a provocative partner for the leader throughout, particularly during passages of collective or contrapuntal improvising. His rapport with Sluijs is quite profound. The responsive give-and-take of the two saxophonists is perhaps best heard on "Follow Your Neighbour."
At all times the rhythm section is intuitive and together. Their propulsive swing is a major asset. True Nature offers yet more evidence that, while little-known, Ben Sluijs is one of the finest alto saxophonists we have.
3 Times Nothing; True Nature; Old Demons; Mali; Follow Your Neighbour; Happy Widow; Unlike You; Major Step; Transformation.
Ben Sluijs: alto saxophone, flute; Jeroen Van Herzeele: tenor saxophone; Manolo Cabras:
bass; Marek Patrman: drums.