Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Explosive Surfy Jazz from the Best-Dressed Guy in Holland

Jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s stuff is a big hit in his native Holland because it’s very accessible and a lot of fun. Seeing as his compariot, debonair alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s mission is to “bring jazz back to the dance floor,” it made a lot of sense for Herman to do a Mengelberg album, which turned out to be a big hit there in 2009. Herman – a genuine star not only in his native land, but throughout Europe – is now on US tour, trying to move bodies (the schedule is here) while promoting a stunningly deluxe new edition of that cd, Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg). The title may sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but the studio album is a mix of upbeat, dancefloor-ready jazz (when was the last time you heard that, huh?), just now reissued with a bonus ecstatic live cd mining a sly, devious vibe that’s pure punk rock. The band behind him – bassist Ernst Glerum, drummer Joost Patocka (of Euro-jazz doyenne Rita Reys’ band), keyboardist Willem Friede and guitar cult hero Anton Goudsmit – straddle the line between precision and abandon (more the latter than the former), with predictably entertaining results. The point of all this seems to be how far outside they can take Mengelberg’s often stunningly memorable, melodic compositions.

Much of the studio album is a trio performance with sax, bass and drums, bass walking blithely while Herman jumps playfully in and out of focus, skirting the melody. There are a lot of creatively disquieting touches here: a disarmingly pretty pop melody against the doppler effect of freeway traffic; the eerie children’s choir that introduces an offhandedly intense, chromatic number, and a distantly noir ballad with nebulous sax over a mellotron string section. There’s also a bright calypso tune and a couple of irresistibly surf-tinged songs, one with a Memphis go-go feel, the other a bouncy bolero (aptly titled A Little Nervous, in Dutch) with busy drums and bowed bass.

But the hourlong live disc from last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival is the piece de resistance. Herman plays his ass off; Goudsmit steals the show on the darker numbers. The most exhilarating number is called Do the Roach, Jim Campilongo surf/jazz taken to a blistering extreme, Goudsmit echoing Bill Frisell at his wildest, throwing off a blast of reverb-drenched metal fragments. The vigorous version of A Bit Nervous has Patocka doing a spot-on Mel Taylor impersonation; it sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with a good sax player. And Herman matches Goudsmit’s unhinged exuberance as they transform the Memphis go-go of Brozziman into crazed surf jazz, working their way out of the previous tone poem’s gritty, scrapy ambience. By itself it would be one of the year’s best jazz albums; alongside the studio disc, it makes a great introduction to a player and a group who deserve to be as well known in the US as they are at home.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Eric Vloeimans’ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s

In terms of lush, exuberant melody, this is without question the most beautiful album of the year in any style of music. Warm, plaintive, sometimes soaring, sometimes contemplative, this live recording by Dutch jazz trumpeter Eric Vloeimans, guitarist Anton Goudsmit and pianist Harmen Fraanje – just out on Challenge Records – captures a characteristic, richly memorable performance. If you get the chance to see this group, don’t pass it up. One part jazz, one part late 19th century Romanticism, with influences from the pampas of Argentina to the Portuguese coast, their style is indelibly unique. What a treat it must have been to be in the club the night this album was made. Yet for all the accessibility, there’s both an elusiveness and an allusiveness to the melodies that draws the listener in: any sense of contentedness is matched by an equivalent longing.

Goudsmit’s guitar opens it eerily, gently tremolo-picking a flamenco melody, Vloeinams finally adding a stately old world beauty, nostalgia balanced by poignancy. They make their way into a playful stop-and-start over what’s essentially a soul-pop song, Vloeimans employing his trademark shifts in intonation. The trio segue seamlessly into the third track, March of the Carpenter Ants, moving through a wary, chromatically-charged Vloeimans solo to a fascinating section akin to a film shot with three cameras onto a single screen a la the Woodstock documentary. Insistent, separate yet together, it’s a moment that screams out for the replay button. That, and headphones.

Goudsmit builds the fourth cut, Ernesto from a minimal intro to a darkly Robbie Krieger raga-inflected passage echoed by piano and trumpet, then shifts into suspenseful tango mode with an understatedly anguished David Gilmour feel that Vloeimans picks up on and takes to its logical crescendo. The next cut, Phillip works a pastoral, Jenny Scheinman-style melody into a gorgeously catchy theme with heavy Ellington overtones. Vloeimans finally goes all the way up on the wings of his glissandos and then down again on the gracefully choreographed Weimar blues Harry Bo, moving optimistically to centerstage against fatalistic piano and guitar. The other tracks on the album include a couple of blues numbers, the first of which morphs cleverly into a pop ballad, the second with a Georgia on My Mind feel with jaunty trumpet and spiky guitar. The only miss here is Somewhere Over the Rainbow, an exercise in implied melody, the trio taking care to skirt its central theme when what they should have done is left it off the set list entirely. Lucky fans can see Eric Vloeimans’ Fugimundi play September 27 at the Rotterdam International Jazz Festival.

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment