Album Review: Icarus (Mark Keresman The New York City Jazz Record).

Important locales in the timeline of jazz: Kansas City in the ‘30s; NYC in the ‘50s; and Amsterdam in the ‘60s. Of the latter scene is legendary drummer Han Bennink, who worked with Eric Dolphy, Wes Montgomery and Dexter Gordon before going on to become a central figure in Euro-free circles. At 76, Bennink is still going strong and Icarus is his latest project, a duet with a countryman clarinetist who could be his son: Joris Roelofs, born 35 years ago this month.

Bennink and Roelofs share a playful, joyful approach to free improvisation, the former especially possessed of an impish, absurdist streak. The album opens with the ominously dramatic “Carmen”, clarinet wailing like a wounded beast while Bennink has at the drums and a piano simultaneously; the pair then stalk one another through darkened Hitchcock-ian hallways.

Most of the music herein is improvised but there are a few interpretations: Kurt Weill’s “This is New”, played with a definite lilt and carefree swing; Dolphy’s “Something Sweet, Something Tender” essayed as a pensive, somewhat restless ballad with drums providing stormy counterpoint to soulful bass clarinet; Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che” as classically elegiac. Bennink makes the drums crackle on “Broad Stripes and Bright Stars” while Roelofs offers mournful, high lonesome clarion calls, then lithe, gently swirling, bop-flavored lines. These performances, while free-ranging, are concise and punchy, most tracks hovering at the three-minute mark.

Icarus is a set of stimulating, fascinating duets where questing freedom and merry tunefulness, serious musicianship and goofy, burlesque-ish moods overlap and intertwine.

Mark Keresman

Album Review: Joris Roelofs + Han Bennink: Icarus (Peter Margasak, Downbeat)

French-born, Amsterdam-based clarinetist Joris Roelofs has built his career balancing intense discipline and deep commitment to post-bop tradition with a measured exploratory streak. He’s worked extensively in the Vienna Art Orchestra and he maintains a wonderfully buoyant trio with the American rhythm section of Ted Poor and Matt Penman. But this new recording suggests that his attraction to freedom is growing stronger. Icarus is a lovely duo project with the veteran free jazz drummer Han Bennink, a perfect match for the reedist. The percussionist is both a master of chaos and one of the most naturally swinging musicians on the planet, and he provides both grounding and provocation to his much younger associate.

Most of the music is freely improvised and the album opens with a blast of disorder on “Carmen,” with Bennink banging out piano clusters and injecting some discordant cymbal explosions, while Roelofs blows harsh squawks. Suddenly a wild gear-shift occurs and a tender, breathy melody that sounds like a lost standard and a loping, rumbling groove takes over, indicating the sort of polarities that the pair giddily explore throughout. The clarinetist’s lyric gifts are so strong that when the duo tackle jazz standards like Eric Dolphy’s “Something Sweet, Something Tender”--presented with an attractively slack drag from Bennink that deftly adds tension to the in-and-out-of-focus treatment of the theme--or Charlie Haden’s indelible “Song for Che,” they feel entirely of a piece with the spontaneous creations. Icarus captures an electric dialogue: raw, giddy, trusting. Here’s hoping this conversation continues.

Peter Margasak

Album Review, Herman-Bennink-Beets-Jacobs: Quartet-NL (Hessel Fluitman, JazzFlits)

Al een jaar of vier staan altsaxofonist Benjamin Herman, pianist Peter Beets, bassist Ruud Jacobs en drummer Han Bennink bij tijd en wijle samen op het podium. Ondanks de verschillen in leeftijd en voorkeuren van stijlen, spelen ze wonderwel samen. De stukken op ‘Quartet-NL’ zijn van Misha Mengelberg. Het zijn stukken die hijzelf wel spottend ‘de bebopjes’ noemde. En in de uitvoering door dit kwartet komen ze ook dicht bij deze muziekstijl. De vier musici pakken de composities op 24 april 2016 in Tivoli (Utrecht) fris van de lever uit. De cd opent met ‘Driekusman total loss’. Dat roept herinneringen op aan wijlen saxofonist Piet Noordijk, die ooit met Mengelberg speelde. Dit kwartet speelt het stuk wat feller en wat ‘onaffer’ dan hij. Peter Beets verloochent zijn afkomst niet: Oscar Peterson en vooral de bebop. Waar je in het stuk de dwarse clusters van de componist verwacht, schotelt Beets de luisteraar een meer vloeiende lijn voor. Misschien moest Beets zich nog het meest aanpassen. Alhoewel… In het intro op ‘Who’s bridge?’ lijkt hij bezig met het thema van ‘De sprong, O romantiek der hazen’, om dan met een paar forse akkoorden ter zake te komen en Herman een springplank biedt om met het juiste thema te beginnen. In de echte ‘De sprong, O romantiek der hazen’ begeleidt Peter Beets Herman eerst heel klassiek en soleert dan sterk over het thema, terwijl Bennink van achter zijn trommels de tekst reciteert. Ook de bassist soleert heel vanzelfsprekend over dit thema. Met smaak gebracht, de muziek op deze cd. Hessel Fluitman. 

Album Review, Herman-Bennink-Beets-Jacobs: Quartet-NL (Gijsbert Kamer, Volkskrant)

Dit is een goed stel, hoor. Benjamin Herman (sax), Peter Beets (piano), Han Bennink (drums) en Ruud Jacobs (bas). Twee generaties jazzmuzikanten die zich buigen over de composities van de dit jaar overleden pianist Misha Mengelberg. 

Herman maakte al eerder albums met Mengelbergmuziek en Bennink speelde zijn hele leven met de pianist samen, al dan niet in het ICP Orchestra. Jacobs begeleidde zo ongeveer iedere Amerikaanse jazzgrootheid die sinds de vroege jaren zestig Nederland aandeed en Beets kan bijna alles op de piano. 

Wat op dit vorig jaar in Utrecht opgenomen live album vooral knap is: hij probeert Mengelberg niet te imiteren. De grilligheden die bij de composities als The Romantic Jump of Hares en Driekusman Total Loss horen, neemt Bennink wel voor zijn rekening. De rest speelt volledig in zijn eigen stijl, maar tsjonge jjonge wat swingt dit boeltje, zeg. 

Het kwartet speelt soms lekker dwars, en volgt dan weer heel gepast de melodie, maar altijd speels en avontuurlijk. Heerlijk hoe het met dit prachtige, prettig dwarse en prikkelende repetoire aan de haal gaat. Gijsbert Kamer

Album Review, Han Bennink Trio: Adelante (Mark Keresman, NYC Jazz Review)

Dutch drummer Han Bennink is one of the wonders of the musical world: he’s got brilliant technique to spare; played with everyone from Dexter Gordon to Dutch post-punk combo The Ex; been a mainstay in Europe’s avant jazz scene since the mid ‘60s; and performs with an absurdist flair and seemingly boundless enthusiasm regardless of context. The only thing certain about a performance or recording is that it will be a surprise (and often a good one).

This acoustic trio set has darn near got everything a most flexible-minded jazz fan may need. “Supertyphoon” is an exhilarating bit of postbop driven by Bennink’s coiled-spring, Gene Krupa-like tom-tom laden swing. “Comacina Dreamin’” has a somewhat modal, oddly meditative clarinet melody from Joachim Badenhorst while Bennink rumbles like an approaching thunderstorm. “De Sprong O Romantiek Der Hazen” is a slightly sultry Ellingtonlike ballad by Bennink’s longtime foil Misha Mengelberg, wherein Badenhorst’s bass clarinet takes on a romantically musing hue, evoking the deep/breathy-toned elegance of tenor saxophonist Ben Webster with a touch of Gerry Mulligan suavity. “Waterzooi” is a midtempo free jazz piece, which maintains a volatile mood and forward motion thanks to driving yet never overbearing drumming and cavernous bass clarinet. This album concludes with the ebullient, New Orleans-accented “Adelante 2”, Bennink cranking out rolling, percolating N’awlins rhythms like Ed Blackwell reborn and joyful bass clarinet phrases carrying hints of North African and Caribbean melodies. For those of you into standards, there’s a jolly, abstract take on “My Melancholy Baby”, Simon Toldam’s lyrical piano embodying some stride and Erroll Garner-like passages. While the trio deconstructs it, they do so with affection.

For those into free-er sounds who prefer them with humor, concision and resolutely based in the jazz verities—and fans of Bennink (who should be seen live!)—this is a keeper. Mark Keresman

Album Review, Han Bennink Trio: Adelante (Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader)

Dutch drummer Han Bennink, who turns 75 next month, has been an unrelenting creative force in jazz and improvised music since the early 60s. In 1964 he played on Eric Dolphy's legendary final record, Last Date, and in '67 he formed the Instant Composers Pool with pianist Misha Mengelberg (who died two weeks ago) and reedist Willem Breuker. He has an instantly recognizable sound—loud, chaotic, furiously swinging—and he's applied it to hundreds of records. He's all about improvisation, so leading a regular band has never been high on his list of concerns—he's more interested in interaction and disruption. Finally, eight years ago, he decided to form a trio.

When the group dropped its 2009 debut, Parken (ILK), Bennink's two partners—Danish pianist Simon Toldam and Belgian reedist Joachim Badenhorst—were still relatively unknown figures, performing in the shadow of a charismatic, extroverted giant. They pulled it off, but on the trio's recently released third album, Adelante (ICP), the combo has clearly grown as a unit. While Bennink can't help but improvise at every turn, the album is rooted in compositions by Toldam and Badenhorst, most of which are beautifully lyrical—including Badenhorst's gently rolling "Comacina Dreamin'" and Toldam's high-velocity swinger "Supertyphoon." 

    The most arresting compositions on the new album, though, are by the late Mengelberg—they're both later works, and rank among his most tender and beautiful pieces. The trio's version of "De Sprong O Romantiek der Hazen," which shimmers with a Duke Ellington-like elegance, employs a piano line whose lovely fragility is instantly shattered by Bennink's deliberately anarchic clatter and Badenhorst's rheumy bass clarinet chortling. As the piece unfolds, though, the gorgeously moody melody wins out over this sort of turbulence. The piece was recorded last November, when Mengelberg was still alive, but it's hard not to hear it as a lovely tribute to his memory.  Peter Margasak