Jan Nijdam Kwartet – Bij De Dieren Thuis
Blue Lines Sextet – Live at the Bimhuis
(Casco Records 005)
CD reviews by Brian Marley
Although jazz is a language spoken internationally, regional variations abound. Here we have Dutch, known for its theatrical elements, a tendency to subject musical structure and form to loving abuse, and, of course, humour. That’s not to say it’s not a serious undertaking.
When the Jan Nijdam Kwartet lurches out of the briefly stated head of Ad Nasum into free play, there’s no pussyfooting, and no mistaking how closely the musicians are listening to each other. Double bassist Jan Nijdam composed all the pieces on Bij De Dieren Thuis (which translates as 'at home with the animals'), but although he’s the bandleader he’s not placed under a spotlight. This is a group effort, in which everyone pulls their weight.
Tobias Delius, tenor sax and clarinet, is perhaps the best-known player in the quartet, but drummer Alan Purves (who, as far back as 1982, made an excellent duo disc with Ernst Reijseger) and pianist Michiel Scheen have equally strong credentials. Delius plays tenor with excited yips punctuating his phrases, à la Oliver Lake, and his tone on clarinet is pure silk, especially on the ballad Whimsical Elf, which, after a statement of the theme, opens up into a laconic free improvisation that in an instant travels light years from where it began, only to have the theme reappear when least expected.
The music is, in other words, tighter than tight, even though you may be led to believe otherwise. Tracks are generally short, only one topping the six-minute mark, the compositions are memorable and the improvising is first class throughout.
The common factor between the two CDs under review is pianist Michiel Scheen. He, Raoul van der Weide (double bass, crackle box, found objects) and George Hadow (drums) comprise the Blue Lines Trio which, on Live at the Bimhuis, is augmented by Ada Rave (saxophones, clarinet) Bart Maris (trumpets, cornet, bugle) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone).
Apart from two pieces from jazz repertory – Silence by Charlie Haden and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Charles Mingus, the theme of which is sneaked up on from behind artfully woven thickets of free improvisation – all compositions are by Scheen, and they tend to be collected into small suites with sequentially numbered improvisations. Four of these pieces – Solid, Idols, Stumble and Sigh) can also be found on the trio’s 2014 recording.
Scheen’s playing contains elements of Guus Janssen and the late Misha Mengelberg, both of whom drew inspiration from Thelonious Monk’s jabbing style of pianism and his love of a well-placed dissonance to spice up the music, but he’s his own man, a superb improviser who never overplays his hand.
In fact, a certain pithiness is characteristic of both Live at the Bimhuis and Bij De Dieren Thuis. Of the reed and horn players in the sextet, the fruity tone and exuberant exclamations of Wolter Wierbos stand out, but, quite frankly, they all shine brightly.