Benjamin 2 by Frank Hanswijk

Take Three with Benjamin Herman

Benjamin 2 by Frank Hanswijk

Our ears have been attuned to alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s suave and spirited jazz hodgepodge for more than two decades now. Nearing the age of 47, Herman resembles a vital and frisky thirty-something. The sharpest dressed man in the contemporary Dutch jazz realm brings with him a bag full of experience. His field of work has become uncommonly diverse, ranging from modern jazz to film scores and hiphop collaborations. Herman’s latest release, Trouble, is characterised by a cinematic atmosphere, courtesy of the altoist’s airy and warm sound and the dazzingly seductive crooning of pianist/singer Daniel von Piekartz. Curacao is one of its standout tracks. It is known territory for the bandleader, as he dives into the hard-swinging vibe he has created so regularly over the years with his hi-voltage octet and big band New Cool Collective.

It’s the kind of fertile terrain for tasty food Flophouse Magazine would kill for as well. Like Art Blakey and the indomitable drummer’s Live At Bohemia 1 & 2. According to Herman, it’s an essential album for both jazz lovers and pro’s. Certainly because of the interaction between the vociferous Blakey and his sidemen, including two of the most underrated horn men of their time, trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenorist Hank Mobley. “Mobley has such an utterly cool aura. He wasn’t commercially successful and his heavy drinking was an obstacle. Ended up living in a subway station, really sad. A shy fellow as well. All this aside, Mobley is the supreme musicians’ musician. I know a lot of people who put him on top or their list because of Mobley’s tone and deft, understated swing. Listen how Blakey spurs him on. Mobley isn’t overpowering and creates something fresh in every chorus.”

Herman likes Lou Donaldson for that kind of story-telling quality as well. He does a fair and pretty hilarious impersonation of his fellow altoist. Recounting a story Branford Marsalis told Herman’s collaborator Joost Patocka – a story about a night when Donaldson teasingly commented on a couple of live Marsalis blues tunes – Herman imitates the renowned soul jazz veteran’s raspy, high-pitched voice: “You call that a blues? You want me to get my saxophone?! I’ll tell you what a blues is!” Herman is quick to point out Donaldson’s undisputable bop credentials. “The man was on par with Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. And his judgement is justified! He is so good with the blues. I really like those boogaloo records he did in the late sixties. His timing and ability to tell a story are striking. It’s never about virtuosity or playing to the public’s ear. Instead, that ear follows the natural swing he brings. I really would like to play like that. It’s in the back of my mind while performing.”

Herman’s comments on John Coltrane suggest the legendary tenor and soprano saxophonist hasn’t only been in the back of his mind, but dead centre in its front row as well. His choice of the album Coltrane Sound is a surprise. It has been under the radar ever since it was released in 1964, four years after it was recorded during the iconic My Favorite Things-sessions. It boasts a couple of originals that rank among ‘Trane’s finest, Liberia and Equinox, as well as some challenging interpretations of standards. Herman whistles the melody of The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. Before delving into Coltrane’s multi-harmonic inventions, Herman remembers the shock the tune gave him when he was sixteen. “That strange note in the solo; I learned what it was, but I kept thinking, what is this, what is it doing there? I started hearing other things and my whole jazz perception was changed.” After all these years, Herman still stares transfixed into space. And take note that the album sounds came out of a Sony Walkman. “Yeah, man. On the other side was Miles At Newport. Spotify is a nice tool for discovering new music, but tape sounds much better!”

The biggest part of our get-together is devoted to the vinyl wonderland of Sonny Rollins. It’s the Live At The Village Vanguard albums 1 & 2 the altoist has been wild about for a long time. “How did I get there? Well, once I was on the road with (drummer) Han Bennink and he put this album on in the car. He could sing it, note for note. Including the bass and drum parts! Everybody who can play checked it out. Standard procedure. At least for me, about dealing with harmony and playing on the melody. And, furthermore, about approaching your fellow musicians, how to interact.”

Herman has similar feelings about Saxophone Colossus and other vintage early Rollins albums, but the twin sessions at the Vanguard remain his favourites. “They represent true transitional phases for jazz improvisation. It builds on the bebop idiom, informing it with fresh ideas. Obviously, it is largely made up of bebop classics or standards that’ve received famous bebop treatments by Parker and the like.”

“Take What Is This Thing Called Love and the way Rollins approached the first part – the diminished, minor fifths. Extremely interesting, the way he uses differing harmony there. Furthermore, the interaction between the trios is outstanding. Especially where Elvin Jones is involved. Besides, a good evening of Rollins constitutes pure bliss; the way he briskly goes on and on is unparalleled. I usually don’t like long live cuts, but I like these ones. A historic moment, really, the Village Vanguard gig.”

Herman is not about to leave the room before mentioning the great bebop innovator, Charlie Parker. And in particular, the alto saxophonist’s Live At Storyville album, which is cut from a 1953 radio show. “It sounds remarkably well, considering the context. And Bird’s great on that album. Incredible, that late in his career, shortly before he died. It’s so vital and flowing, it’s crazy!” Herman also mentions the avantgarde Karma album of Pharaoh Sanders, as well as a few more obvious influences on his style, such as Eddie Harris’ Mean Greens, Hank Crawford’s From The Heart, and Jackie McLean’s Let Freedom Ring. Hard to pull back out of your desert island bag is what I figure.

The emphasis of our interview has been mainly on tenor saxophonists. Altoist Benjamin Herman attests to the logic of this outcome. “I’ve listened to tenorists, mostly, apart from Charlie Parker, obviously. As a listener, I’m like a lot of other people, the tenor saxophone is the predominant reed instrument. Naturally, I love the alto, but I understand it might be harder to digest. It can be a nervy son of a gun!”

“Having said this,” Herman goes on, “alas, we haven’t had the chance to talk about Johnny Hodges…”

Benjamin Herman

Ever since he came on the scene in the mid-eighties, alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader Benjamin Herman has been a constant, prolific force in the Dutch jazz landscape. With small formats as well as his octet New Cool Collective, Herman has built an eclectic resume of jazz infused with soul, Latin, free form and other assorted exotic tinges; a mix that speaks to both jazz aficionados and the general public. Open-minded to other fields than his core business, Herman has collaborated with film directors, hip-hop artists and writers. He received the VPRO/Boy Edgar Award in 2006 and has been working and touring around the globe regularly. Herman has worked with such diverse artists as Misha Mengelberg, Remco Campert, Paul Weller and Idris Muhammad.

http://www.benjaminherman.nl

DJP Arno Krijger  581

Take Three with Arno Krijger

DJP Arno Krijger  581

It takes some power of adjustment when coming upon that grittiest of instruments, the Hammond organ, in a clean-cut suburb such as Tilburg’s Reeshof quarter. But I guess I’ve been brainwashed for romantic ends by jazz club visits and countless smoky record covers. Because, naturally, the organ has come a long way from dinky burlesque theatres and a downgrade by the jazz police to an appraisal by keen, broadminded critics and folks alike and worldwide recognition as an instrument fine-tuned for modern jazz as well as rock, pop and soul.

The home studio of Arno Krijger, one of Europe’s vanguard organists, harbours two Hammond organs. Amidst various musician’s tools and a dusty, vintage Gretsch drumkit, the big case of a Hammond B3 organ looms large in the centre of the room. Adjacent to that is a Leslie speaker and against another wall resides a C3 organ, which Krijger has used to spice up the interview explaining to me the difference between the hard bop of Jimmy Smith cum suis and the type of avantgarde jazz Larry Young brought to the fore and which is a dominant influence on Krijger’s work. Both styles sound fine by me and the point has been made clear in, successively, bluesy and refined manner.

Seated at a big desk 42-year old Krijger, who prefers his day-off, casual outfit instead of his common, smart, modern stage regalia, opens iTunes. Up pops a classic Jimmy McGriff album.

SPITTIN’ AND PUFFIN’

FM: Aha, Live! That’s Where It’s At.

AK: For a big part, it’s a sentimental choice. It’s linked to my youth. I’m raised on McGriff, Rhoda Scott, Milt Buckner. This album was in my father’s collection and I put it on again and again. We had two organs at home, one electric, which I toyed with as a kid, and one with valves. I started playing on that one and then I thought, wait a minute, now I’ve got that raw McGriff sound!

FM: When the question is raised in a discussion between me and a jazz lovin’ pal or acquantaince which organist is nr. 1 as far as ‘screamin’ is concerned I always end up with McGriff. How did he get that sound?

AK: Well, you know, every organ has a different sound. I think McGriff’s possesses an inherent edge. Whether he plays soft or hard, there’s always a level of overdrive. But that’s not all. The room and acoustics play a part. My organ has a relatively clean sound, but sometimes I’m playing in a club where I have to be careful not to let my organ heave all over the place, so to speak. It also depends on the volume. Then there’s the setting of drawbars and such.

FM: All About My Girl kicked my ass.

AK: That organ’s spittin’ and puffin’! It’s pretty nifty, you know, considering the simplicity of the material, with just a few chords to play with. It has a good sound, good timing. Impeccable groove music, all tunes are cookin’. A number of things go wrong, though.

FM: Really? Tell me.

AK: Well, there’s When Johnny Comes Marching Home. After that march-bit, they change to swing time, but the drummer keeps on marching for a few bars.

FM: A bit silly. But we don’t mind a few minor mishaps, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

AK: That’s right. It’s a live album, of course. There are a couple more, nevertheless, I remember the one in Georgia On My Mind, particularly. The bridge is messed up, twice. Listen here, McGriff is struggling with the chord structure, it seems he’s trying to regain his posture. (After a pause) Listening to it right now, I’m thinking McGriff probably used the foot pedals. You see, usually those guys play bass with their left hand, but on ballads, that are slower and have longer notes, they sometimes use their feet. I think McGriff is not used to it, that might explain the unease.

I don’t play it too often these days. But when I do, it all comes back, I can dream McGriff’s version and I’m unable to inject much of my own style into it. So much expression, rough settings, beautiful vibrato!

UNITY

FM: Larry Young’s Unity is a whole different ballgame.

AK: At conservatory pupils often go through a phase of wanting to play more daring things. It worked like that for me. So in comes Unity, wow!

FM: It’s regarded as a classic now. What’s unique about Larry Young and Unity?

AK: Well, it’s harmonically complex, it’s challenging. You know, it’s a coincidence really that Young is an organist, he probably would’ve played that modal stuff on any one given instrument. He’s less an organist than, say, Jimmy Smith.

FM: Young has a horn-like approach.

AK: Indeed. He plays scales, but not for the sake of complexity, but for the sake of wanting to create meaningful, exciting music.

FM: Without the experiments of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner Larry Young wouldn’t have become the Larry Young of Blue Note fame.

AK: Sure. And he incorporated the whole tone scale that Thelonious Monk favoured, you know. He’s a ‘modern’ organist.

Incidentally, Krijger’s iTunes list spews out Monk’s Dream, one of three Woody Shaw compositions on Unity, which is a mesmerising duet between Young and drummer Elvin Jones.

AK: Listen here, near the end. There’s that string of fast toodle-do’s. That’s the use of whole tone scale. He also incorporates it into his solo’s, of course. What a duet, they complement each other beautifully. Elvin Jones typically pushes and pulls, it has that rumble and incomparable juggling with time and tempo. Larry Young is like that, too.

FM: It’s intense.

AK: Yeah. And Young’s sound is clean and quite similar throughout his career. I think his Leslie speaker is almost ‘off.’ Young’s not in a circus, doing tricks. He eschews the desire of putting your feet on the ceiling combining high C’s with that Leslie speaker, and stuff like that.

What I figure Krijger also puts across in so many words is that Larry Young was an organist particularly keen on interacting with his fellow musicians, instead of merely functioning as a leader in front of a backing band. Naturally, Young was uniquely gifted to do so and indeed a lot of his groups sound utterly ‘together’. A look at some of Young’s colleagues during his Blue Note period, and beyond, is evidence of his standing and affinity: Elvin Jones, Grant Green, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Morgan, Tony Williams, Miles Davis.

AK: He’s been a big influence. There aren’t too many organists that took Young’s approach to heart. Larry Goldings –whom I admire greatly – and Sam Yahel are cases in point.

I like to do different things to avoid boredom and, hopefully, improve. Some stick with one thing and become very good at it. That’s ok, too. But it’s not my bag.

PLAY THEM BLUES, BOY!

On the subject of organ jazz and Krijger’s place in the pantheon of the B3’s possibilities, the organist shows a relaxed yet serious demeanor. In his voice one can hear the drive of a seeker. Privately, Krijger is a good-natured, playful guy. Discussing his soul jazz past, a fair dose of that comic sensibility rubs off. A sensibility that, once a punchline comes in sight, is flavoured with a bit of hillbilly accent from the Zeeuws-Vlaanderen region he hails from. It could be that I’ve contaminated my interviewee. I’m from that southern part of The Netherlands as well.

AK: It took me a long time to shake off the desire to satisfy people with the usual organ jazz tricks. How it went was, I started with the intention to come up with something original, but then at the end of the gig succumbed and threw in some ‘burners’. Which, if it’s not your thing, is definitely not ok, of course.

Back then, whenever I was in a club with that organ, usually somebody in the crowd shouted: ‘O yeah, some Jimmy Smith tonite! Play them blues, boy!’ Which I would answer with, ‘yeah, well, we’re going to do something else.’ ‘Ah, come on, Jimmy’s the King!’ ‘Yeah, but…’ Haha!

Seated at the C3 organ, Krijger discusses another organist he likes, Melvin Rhyne, mostly known for his association with Wes Montgomery. Krijger is enamoured of Rhyne’s swinging, relaxed flow on albums such as Portrait Of Wes. Rhyne’s style is less adventurous as Larry Young’s, but distinctive for its continuous stream of valuable statements and just as devoid of unnecessary lacy embellishment. Krijger demonstrates Rhyne’s sound on the organ. It has to do with a minimum of pulled-out drawbars that create a sober sound and the plucky, ticky sound he gets from putting on the percussion button.

A brief but insightful object and history lesson. Arno Krijger is, to paraphrase a title of one of Larry Young’s other enduring albums, really ‘into something’.

Arno Krijger

At ease with a variety of styles, it is through his front-line organ jazz approach that Hammond-organist Arno Krijger (b. Terneuzen, 1972) is mostly known. High in demand, Krijger has worked and recorded with Jesse van Ruller, Billy Hart, Toine Thys, Stefan Lievestro, Rolf Delfos, Dick De Graaf, Joris Posthumus, Nueva Manteca and James Scholfield among others. He currently is a member of trombonist Nils Wogram’s Nostalgia Trio. A full-fledged organ buff from his childhood days, Krijger is nowadays not only appreciated for his Hammond keyboard skills but also for his exceptional foot pedal technique. Among his prime influences are Larry Young and Larry Goldings.

http://www.arnokrijger.nl

Here’s Arno Krijger celebrating the music of Oliver Nelson

Here’s Arno Krijger with Nils Wogram Nostalgia Trio

Hans-Mantel-400x300

Take Three with Hans Mantel

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Put Hans Mantel, bassist, jazz historian and radio host in a chair, ask him one question about hard bop, and he’s off on a wild tangent. Endearing ruminations about playing with and learning from American Greats such as Stanley Turrentine, Barry Harris, Red Holloway, Ray Brown and Art Blakey alternate with a thoughtful discours on the merits of famous bass players Paul Chambers and Sam Jones and the ‘almost telepathic ryhthmic and melodic innovations’ of the Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh outfit of the early fifties. And then there’s that question hanging in the air if contemporary jazz is meant for posterity. What Mantel is sure of is that the giants of the classic era of jazz weren’t busy making records for the 21st Century Schizoid Man. As Wayne Shorter put it to Mantel a while ago: “What you young cats must realize is, is that we made records to pay our rent!”

But in no way does Mantel suffer from Nostalgia In Times Square. After wandering off into a side street for a few insightful minutes, humming a standard to accompany one or another assumption, Mantel usually comes back to the point straightforwardly, and full of enthousiasm and passion for all things jazz. And the points that we are currently involved with, residing in the college room at the Conservatory of Utrecht, The Netherlands, where Mantel teaches, are a number of Mantel favorites from the realm of hard bop and soul jazz. A number? Yes, got a minute?

“If I’d have to pick one from that great stretch on Blue Note in the late fifties, when Alfred Lion was still aboard, it would certainly be Hank Mobley’s Soul Station. You can smooth out a recording session as one carves a sculpture endlessy, till it’s assumed perfect. But you can also walk into the studio and trust that everybody’s hat is cocked at the same angle, including producer Rudy Van Gelder’s. It’s that way with Soul Station. Everything comes together in a rare moment. Wynton Kelly is in excellent form, Paul Chamber’s sound is pristine. And Art Blakey, usually a heavy player, adapts very well to a relatively soft-hued, swinging session. The compositions are deceptively simple and well-balanced. On a lot of other Blue Note recordings it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the quality of the compositions. But on Soul Station authenticity is its main asset.” Does that exclude Hank Mobley’s Workout? “ O no, not at all. A fantastic record. Same goes for Another Workout. But Soul Station is something special. To me.”

“It’s pretty hard picking one favorite record from an artist. Well, virtually impossible! Take Horace Silver. For your sake, I’d like to see the period of his quintet featuring Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell as one whole; records such as Blowin’ The Blues Away and Tokyo Blues. what attracts me in that group? Well, it obviously runs like a Swiss watch! About a decade ago I discovered tv footage for a Dutch programme. (Senor Blues, Cool Blues, on NPS Jazz) How sharp that group was, and concentrated and dedicated. Unbelievable.

“It might be an uncommon comparison, but in my view Horace Silver’s essence relates to that of Burt Bacharach. I once asked Bacharach the question that naturally is on everybody’s lips: ‘What makes a Bacharach song a Bacharach song? What is it?’ He answered: ‘If I would only know!’ I guess Silver wasn’t exactly conscious of what made his funky, groovy hard bop tunes tick. But tick they did!’

Mentioning Cannonball Adderley makes Mantel shift in his seat, for a number of reasons. “Cannonball is full of life, frivolous and he sounds positive. All the more so combined with Yusef Lateef, the sextet. You know, Miles Davis took in Cannonball (in 1958) because he liked that blues thing. Ironically, Cannonball hired Lateef (in 1961) for the same reason, because he wanted someone who could blow a heavier blues than him! Dig, for instance, Trouble In Mind. (from In Europe, 1962) Lateef is known for that Eastern stuff, of course, but he was a real bluesman as well, essentially.

“I like the Cannonball records featuring pianists Bobby Timmons, Victor Feldman and Joe Zawinul.” When mentioning Barry Harris, who played on the classic Them Dirty Blues, the sparkle in Hans Mantel’s eyes resembles a ray of Marrakech sunlight through a tiny terracota window. “Barry Harris! Well, in my mind Harris is the greatest hard bop pianist of all time. And one of the major teachers. His depth is frightening. Did you know that Barry Harris is the most renowned authority on the works of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell?”

Naturally, Barry Harris contributed masterfully to the Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige catalogue. Mantel stresses, however, that Viccisitudes (MPS, 1972) is a crackerjack job, and that we shouldn’t underestimate his work for Xanadu in the seventies. “If Barry Harris ever makes a record on which we hear him playing poker, I’ll buy it.”

“You know, I could pick any record out of the hard bop section of my record collection with a blindfold and select it as a favorite for one particular reason. Take Solid from Grant Green (Recorded in 1964 but released in 1979) featuring James Spaulding and Elvin Jones, among others. I sometimes pick a record like that, listen to it attentively for a couple of weeks, walking with my head in the clouds. It’s such a goddamn good record. It remained in the vaults for ages before finally being released. A crime and misdemeanor!”

It would certainly be a crime and misdemeanor to put back into the vaults this bunch of wonderful records that bassist, jazz lector and aficionado shed his light upon. So let’s hurry to our turntables.

Hans Mantel

Since 1977, as one of the most sought-after Dutch bassists, Mantel has worked around Europe and toured extensively in the United States, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, India and Africa. Over the last thirty years Mantel has accompanied a myriad of jazz artists in clubs, on festivals, recording dates, on radio and television and well… during as many jam sessions as possible. Among them are: George Benson, Clark Terry, Carmen McRae, James Carter, Roy Hargrove, Stanley Turrentine, Frank Foster, Art Blakey, Red Holloway, Horace Parlan, Gregory Hutchinson, James Moody, Idris Muhammad, Jackie Terrason, Brother Jack McDuff, Barry Harris and John Hicks.

http://info@hansmantel.com