Irreverent Funny Dutch Jazz
Jazz from Holland – isn’t that kind of like surf music from Peru or gypsy music from America? Actually, yes. Gogol Bordello are from Brooklyn (applause please), and for years Peru made the world’s best surf music (back then they called it chicha). One of the more entertaining groups in the vital Dutch jazz scene is the irreverent and frequently comedic quartet Talking Cows, whose series of droll videos has made them a youtube sensation. Tenor saxophonist Frans Vermeersen gets credit for the more serious songs on their latest album Almost Human (just out on Dutch label Morvin Records); pianist Robert Vermeulen seems to be the cutup in the group. Bassist Dion Nijland has a remarkably melodic, terse style, while eclectic drummer Yonga Sun is equally at home with latin grooves, complex polyrhythms utilizing every square inch of the drum kit, or sraight-up in-the-pocket swing.
The opening track, Hurdles in Threes is something of a false start, a triplet tune that refuses to resolve, hanging out just a bit under the tonic with postbop sax swirls, loungey piano, dancing bass and latin-flavored drumming. It doesn’t give much of a hint of the levity lying in store. The second track, sarcastically titled A Serious Lack of Humour does that, though, through a deadpan solo bass intro, variations on a riff that echoes Ellington’s Caravan, a squalling sax crescendo and all of a sudden a noir loungey interlude that rises again on Vermeersen’s steely lines. A Stroll for Gonso is sort of their warped version of Harlem Nocturne, slowly bubbling with smoky sax, wry mallets on the drums and finally a long, thoughtful Vermeersen solo that straightens things out. They evoke the Microscopic Septet with the blippy, occasionally vaudevillian, Monk-tinged Dinner Is Served, full of fake turnarounds, rhythmic tricks, a ridiculously repetitive righthand piano riff and finally an Epistrophy quote. It’s one of two live recordings here, the second being the dizzyingly polyrhythmic, latin-inflected closing track Hop On, Hop Off which works its way from sly funk to relaxed, lyrical bliss.
The funky/bluesy Not Yet juxtaposes gleefully eerie upper-register piano flourishes with sly sax and a long, genial crescendo that really starts to cook as Sun takes it up huffing and puffing with a shuffle. Mos Def! returns to having fun with latin and Monk, Vermeulen throwing one jape after another into the mix shamelessly as the group veers from relaxed, bluesy charts to the point of pandemonium and then back again. A free piece titled Hang Glider lets an anthemic theme evolve slowly out of carefree, rubato, cool-breeze interplay between sax, bass and piano, while Mooing Around turns a jump blues tune into refusenik postbop much like the opening track. There’s also Two Guys and a Beer (the band doesn’t say what kind, or how many), a jovial, period-perfect 1950s clave jukebox jazz stroll that Vermeulen takes completely off plan. We need more bands like this.
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