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.