Alexander Beets Big Sounds (Maxanter 2021)

NEW RELEASE – ALEXANDER BEETS

Beets blows hot and husky.

Alexander Beets - Big Sounds

Personnel

Alexander Beets (tenor saxophone), Ellister van der Molen (trumpet #1, 2, 6, 7, 10 & 11), Miguel Rodriguez (piano #1, 2, 6, 7, 10 & 11), Sebastiaan van Bavel (piano #3-5, 8 & 9), Marius Beets (bass), Tim Hennekes (drums #1, 2, 6, 7, 10 & 11), Sven Rozier (drums #3-5, 8 & 9)

Recorded

on December 28 & 29, 2020 and March 25, 2021 at Studio Smederij, Zeist

Released

as Maxanter 74618 in 2021

Track listing

Blues For The Legends
Brother Hank
A Love That Never Ends
Here’s That Rainy Day
The Look Of Love
A Night That Lasts Forever
June Bug
I Love You
The Man I Love
Diplodocus
What Happened To The Days


You can’t be like Gene Ammons, Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Ben Webster for the simple fact that the styles of these classic tenor men reflected their times. Their styles reflected times fraught with racism and segregation and brimming with the joyful catharsis of the blues; on a more prosaic note, were born of rowdy bars and sleazy BBQ joints and union scale and the occasional jail sentence. They were the underground.

But you can get inspired by them and transform your passion into a personal voice. This is the prerequisite for a successful straightforward jazz endeavor, which by nature isn’t progressive but nonetheless valid. All around the world, fans enjoy good-time live jazz entertainment. Besides, who is going to learn youngsters where jazz comes from if no one plays the standards and the blues? Perhaps it was this sentiment that prompted Beets to byline the title of his latest record, Big Sounds, with “forgotten tenor heroes of the past”.

There’s no doubt that Alexander Beets has found a personal voice and while Big Sounds isn’t treading new ground, it is a thoroughly entertaining set of standards and original blues and hard bop compositions.

Beets is brother of acclaimed bassist Marius and renowned pianist Peter. An interview from the three brothers with Jazz Nu way back in January 1996 gives a clue about Beets’s pragmatic outlook. The article describes the work of the Ph.D business science as the band’s PR representative. “First and foremost, I’m a musician and consequently look at the industry as an artist, but that takes nothing away from the fact that I love it when my car is gassed up.”

Beets is both tenor saxophonist and jazz organizer. He holds various managerial positions and is currently the director of the Amersfoort World Jazz Festival. You can see him jammin’ after hours with the festival’s finest in his typically down-to-earth style.

(From l. to r.; Beets Brothers, Marius, Peter and Alexander; Beets and Judith Nijland; New York Round Midnight Orchestra, Rolf Delfos, Ellister van der Molen, Ben van der Dungen and Alexander Beets)

On record, Beets sounds similar as on stage, no pyrotechnics, but bluesy and fluent, with plenty of dirty, husky, honked and wailed asides. He uses the archetypical quintet format, including the always excellent, sweet-tart trumpeter Ellister van der Molen, thoroughly swinging pianist Miquel Rodriguez and crisp drummer Tim Hennekes, for a lively set of soul jazz and hard bop. The boogaloo of Diplodocus and classic Blue Note-ish What Happened In The Days are especially sparkling.

Ballads find him in relatively smoother mode, underlined by young pianist Sebastiaan van Bavel, whose melancholy chords and light toucher provide the backdrop to, among others, Here’s That Rainy Day and The Man I Love.

Different strokes for different folks, which works just fine, as the in-your-face tenor sax of Beets is the common thread. As far as sax goes, arguably the stop-time, r&b-drenched Brother Hank is homage not only to Mobley but, perhaps unintentionally and subconsciously, to Hank Crawford, who predominantly shone on alto and bari. After all, the sweeping A Night That Lasts Forever also oozes the soul of the late great saxophonist and musical director of the Ray Charles band. Either way, examples of sincere and uplifting straight-ahead jazz.

Find Big Sounds at Maxanter.

Freedom In Music, Freedom In Life

THESIS MILES DAVIS – RICARDO PINHEIRO

“Davis’s stage conduct (that signifies the rejection of the role of the jazz musician as an entertainer) and the freer musical processes he was working on had an underlying and profound political substance: he was not only stimulating freedom in music eliminating melodic, harmonic and rhythmic pre-established canons, but also using new musical ideas and concepts that served as a metaphor for an ideal society and that appealed for social change.”

After my post on Miles Davis’s My Funny Valentine I received a message from Portuguese guitarist Ricardo Pinheiro. Pinheiro drew my attention to his thesis on the Miles Davis performance of Stella By Starlight in 1964. I found it interesting that Ricardo illuminated in-depth what I suggested in my review, the open but too often neglected door that jazz (and music in general) is not an entity cut off from society but a mutually stimulating phenomenon.

The Second Great Quintet of Miles Davis (or: the ‘first’ SGQ with George Coleman preceding Wayne Shorter) performing on a night sponsored by among others the NCAAP, is a case in point. Ricardo compares Davis’s 1958 version with his 1964 live version, pointing out the far-reaching flexible treatment of harmony (but one of the band’s challenging inventions) and arguing that “cultural, social, racial, and historical implications are crucial for the process of building signification regarding a specific recorded or live performance.”

Read Ricardo’s thesis, accepted by Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa in September 2020 here.

Significantly, the versatile Pinheiro himself is an emotive and intelligent guitarist aware of the shifts of parameters in music and society. Pinheiro cooperated with among others Dave Liebman, Peter Erskine, Eric Ineke and John Gunther. Recent recordings are Caruma and the brand-new Dança do Pólen, both stilled images of loneliness and acceptance and the beauty of nature, sparse outings of guitar (and in the case of Caruma voices). By no means conscious efforts of “Corona-recordings” (You’d be amazed at how many announcements of “Lockdown” albums I received in my mailbox) but albums that relate ambiguously to contemporary life.

Check out Ricardo’s website here.

Ian Cleaver & Gideon Tazelaar - Volume 1

Ian Cleaver & Gideon Tazelaar Volume 1 (Dox 2021)

NEW RELEASE – IAN CLEAVER & GIDEON TAZELAAR

Young lions strengthen our belief in the future of real jazz.

Ian Cleaver & Gideon Tazelaar - Volume 1

Personnel

Ian Cleaver (trumpet), Gideon Tazelaar (tenor saxophone), Benjamin Herman (alto saxophone), Joris Roelofs (bass clarinet), Felix Moseholm (bass), Jorge Rossy (drums)

Recorded

on August 11, 2020 at Electric Monkey Studio, Amsterdam

Released

as Dox 548 in 2021

Track listing

Love You Madly
Second Time Around
Rollo II
Titoro
It’s Alright With Me
Tamalpais
Dancing In The Dark
I Get Along Without You Very Well


Ian Cleaver and Gideon Tazelaar are like Vileda sponges. The exceptionally gifted millennials absorb all kinds of information and inspiration around the clock and, when squeezed, increasingly mature statements pour out. Tazelaar spent time in New York, graduating on Juilliard and practicing and playing with the likes of giant George Coleman. But subsequently, both friends took shelter on a tiny island at a big lake in The Netherlands, further honing their chops like Nature Boys among the sounds of the birds and fowl. Hence the brooding duck that’s pictured on the sleeve of Volume 1.

They debut as a co-leading duo on wax and besides bassist Felix Moseholm (also a Juilliard graduate and nephew to granduncle Erik whom assisted Eric Dolphy in the sixties) have recruited heavyweight Jorge Rossy. The Spanish drummer cooperated with, among others, Woody Shaw, Brad Meldhau and Joe Lovano. Former mentor and alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman and bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs guest on a couple of tunes.

Cleaver/Tazelaar & Co perform a diverse and carefully handpicked set of classic jazz with self-evident flair. One asset of Volume 1 is the natural feel for melody that Cleaver and Tazelaar share, sometimes sprightly unisono, at other times flexibly contrapuntal. Of the latter, Duke Ellington’s Love You Madly possesses a lovely old-timey, sultry vibe, featuring a bright and punchy solo by Cleaver. For this occasion, Killer Cleaver is a well-suited nickname, as the trumpeter enthusiastically throws himself into the battle with skills that are clearly not used for virtuosity’s sake and a sound as delightful as morning glory.

Best of all about Tazelaar is his relaxed articulation. Would one know nothing of his age, one would by listening to Volume 1 arguably guess that the tenor saxophonist on duty is a veteran and, no mistaking, in fine shape. His sound is warm and resonant. Collected but headstrong, Tazelaar takes on the breakneck tempo of Cole Porter’s It’s Alright With Me. Ultra-slow tempos separate the men from the boys and Tazelaar kills the slowest version of Hoagy Carmichael’s I Get Along Without You Very Well of late, a refreshing quartet effort that alternates between a flexible verse and a lightly swinging bridge.

Extra horns are the icing on the cake. The band creates high melodious drama of Oscar Pettiford’s Tamalpais, a mysterious piece that seems to reflect a visit of Ravel to Andalusia. Benjamin Herman feels like a fish in the water of Billy Taylor’s equally exotic Titoro. The capricious and sandpapered phrases of Joris Roelofs, definitely a European class act on bass clarinet, raise the bar on Misha Mengelberg’s post-bop classic Rollo II.

Any type of fowl will do on Volume 2, as long as we’re guaranteed that it’ll be in the making any time soon.

Arbenz Mehari Veras Conversations #1: Condensed

NEW RELEASE – ARBENZ MEHARI VERAS

Conversations #1: Condensed teams up drummer Florian Arbenz with trumpeter Hermon Mehari and guitarist Nelson Veras. It’s a promising start to Arbenz’s ambitious project of twelve records with different line ups.

Arbenz Mehari Veras - Conversations #1- Condensed

Personnel

Florian Arbenz (drums), Hermon Mehari (trumpet), Nelson Veras (guitar)

Recorded

in 2020 in Basel

Released

on Hammer Recordings in 2021

Track listing

Boarding The Beat
Let’s Try This Again
Groove A
Olha Maria
In Medias Res
Vibing With Morton
Race Face
Dedicated To The Quintessence
Circle
Freedom Jazz Dance


Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz is part of that versatile and exceptional European breed that partakes in multiple musical settings. Arbenz worked with Bennie Maupin, Dave Liebman and Greg Osby and sustains membership of various bands, notably the long-standing trio VEIN.

Only last year, Arbenz released the self-titled, world music-tinged album of his band Convergence and a duet with Osby, Reflections Of The Eternal Line, reviewed here. This year Arbenz has taken on the challenging plan of Conversations, which involves the release of no less than twelve albums of different line ups, recorded in his studio in Basel.

The kick-off is Conversations #1: Condensed featuring American trumpeter Hermon Mehari and Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras. The trio explores a wide variety of moods and strikes a fine balance between groove, tunefulness and free expression. Both Mehari and Veras are flexible, exceptional players and their continuous stream of ideas is underlined by Arbenz, who fills spaces actively and with precise and melodically refined rhythms and provides a succinct bass “feel” with various percussive additions on his kit. Arbenz blends well with Mehari’s beautiful tart tone and Veras’s sultry lines and voicing.

Boarding The Beat is a hip Latin vamp, Olha Maria a lovely Spanish-tinged melody and In Medias Res uplifting post-modern bop. The moody piece Let’s Try This Again makes you feel as if an angel has descended from the sky to offer you a can of water while you’re standing in the blistering hot Mexican desert. The loose harmonic texture of Race Face does nothing to hide a good old swing feeling. Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance is notable for Arbenz’s fearless and articulate drum thunder near the end. There’s more and not a note is wasted.

Intrigued by his challenging concept, I asked Florian a few questions.

Flophouse Magazine: You will be releasing no less than twelve ‘Conversations’. Could you give me an idea of the musicians and what kind of music it will contain?

Florian Arbenz: Yes, it’s quite a big and challenging project for me! So far I recorded six Conversations and the next three are fully planned and will be recorded in August. I cannot talk too much about names yet, but I can tell you that the participating musicians are renowned jazz musicians of all generations living in Europe. The next Conversation, a double release, will be released on July 30. Conversation #2 is a duet with the great British vibes/marimba-player Jim Hart and in Conversation #3 I add Swiss bass legend Heiri Känzig to the duo.
I expect to release all twelve Conversations before summer 2022 and really hope I will succeed!

Well, about the music, each Conversation will have a main focus which is part of my musical life. In Conversation #1 it was the very quick and spontaneous possibility of communication, #2 and #3 will be with a focus on percussion.

FM: How did you come up with the idea of joining Herman and Nelson?

FA: I already knew Nelson and I really admire his playing. I never met Hermon before the recording but I knew that he’s a killer musician. So I decided to take some risk and just try this combination. This is a great thing about this project, I don’t really have much pressure, I can experiment and try things and if it turns out good I can release it. So far, all the six Conversation-recordings went very well but maybe there also will be a combination which doesn’t work at all… Let’s see.

FM: Did you write all the music except Freedom Jazz Dance?

Yes, I wrote music especially for this combination. It’s quite crucial that the musicians feel comfortable with the music if you don’t have time to rehearse.

I will also record a different version of Freedom Jazz Dance with every combination. It’s very interesting for me to see how the possibilities to play this tune change with the participating musicians.

FM: I guess it is rather different playing with someone for the first time, a step out of the comfort zone.

FA: That’s right. But this is the great thing about improvisation, isn’t it? If you step out of your comfort zone you will discover other things you might never would have discovered. I think that if you play with a musician you never played with before, there is maybe a risk that your personalities don’t fit too well. But in the case of Hermon, it felt great from the first moment, so the whole recording session felt very easy and natural.

FM: Your drum sound is intriguing, it’s got a different feel. Clear, very balanced and not so much resonation. How did you reach that point?

FA: I maybe took a little different way in my career as I studied classical percussion. So I think I might have a bit different view on sound than other drummers. I use a drumset with a small bass drum, wooden rims and natural skins. This naturally leads to a different sound. I think I just try to find myself in my sound, to be authentic, in my opinion that’s crucial if you’re an improvising musician.

FM: How did you create that bass feel on Condensed?

FA: I love to extend my drums with different percussion instruments. For instance, I use a big gong on Vibing with Morton and a marimbula on Race Face.

FM: How’s your hometown of Basel these days?

FA: Fine! My family and my friends also live here. It’s not necessarily a major jazz city, but I travel a lot, so I need to have a place where my loved ones are. Basel is small and nice, it’s easy to move and just great for me to live here.

Bryant In Holland

YOUTUBE – RAY BRYANT

While I put on some music by Ray Bryant on YouTube as I was writing the text for my upcoming Ray Bryant profile on my radio show Groove & Grease on Concertzender, I came across a great clip of Ray Bryant in 1996 as a guest at Reiziger In Muziek in The Netherlands. See here!

In conversation with host Han Reiziger, beloved enthusiast that invited artists of all creeds in his program from 1989 till 2001, Bryant among other things reflects on his gospel and blues roots, his classical background and years accompanying Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Miles Davis at the Blue Note club in his birthplace of Philadelphia in the early 50’s.

We hear a solo performance by Bryant of Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma. Bryant was part of Gillespie’s band in 1957. We also hear him play Duke Ellington’s Take The A-Train together with Dutch bassist Hans Mantel.

At the time, Bryant paid a short visit to The Netherlands. He played in Porgy & Bess in Terneuzen (coincidentally, my birthplace – I didn’t unfortunately make the show) and at Bimhuis, Amsterdam on the day of the interview. In 1996, Ray Bryant released Double RB with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Lewis Nash.

Ray Bryant passed away in 2011.

Greg Skaff Polaris (SMK JAZZ 2021)

NEW RELEASE – GREG SKAFF

Small wonder that, with legends Ron Carter and Albert “Tootie” Heath in tow, Greg Skaff’s Polaris is the real deal.

skaff_cover_3k

Personnel

Greg Skaff (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Albert “Tootie” Heath (drums)

Recorded

on August 12, 2019 and March 16, 2020

Released

as SMKJ-003 in 2021

Track listing

Side A:
Old Devil Moon
Angelica
Little Waltz (duo)
Paris Eyes
Yesterdays
Mr. R.C.
Lady Of The Lavender Mist
Polaris
Little Waltz (trio)
Caminando
Ill Wind


HNo mistaking, the guitarist is not lagging behind. Skaff came up in a period when many of the major-league elder statesmen were alive and kickin’. Once upon a long ago, he kickstarted his career under the wings of tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. And the contender in strings of organ groups continued his career with Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and NYC staples as Mike LeDonne and David Hazeltine. Clearly, Skaff has absorbed the indispensable lesson that focus should not be on the chord changes but instead on the right notes for the moment. The result, obviously, of an excellent melodic ear.

The above-mentioned start of the album, Old Devil Moon, gets the message across effectively. Skaff’s punchy attack and rhythmic displacements reference the famous Village Vanguard version of Sonny Rollins. Carter and Heath’s smooth but driving swing brings back to life that indelible vibe from little Very Important Places like The Five Spot and Club Bohemia in the late 1950’s, which an exclusive (often very) elderly coterie knows from experience and current jazz fans from many iconic live records. The fact that on top of Polaris’s succinct extensions of the tradition, the gatefold package includes extensive and insightful liner notes by Nate Chinen, rule rather than exception in the classic era of jazz, is a delightful bonus.

Eighty-somethings Carter and Heath together represent more than hundred and twenty years of professional jazz experience. Carter, the most prolific jazz bassist in history and innovator of the decime interval in bass playing, takes several commanding solos and beautifully rhapsodizes on the melody of Yesterdays. The rapport of the trio is sympathetic throughout the program of Polaris, which includes Carter’s Little Waltz and Skaff’s Mr. C., homage to his bassist of choice and a nifty variation on Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. Unfortunately, Skaff’s finest composition Polaris, streamlined by a thrilling progression and uplifted by bell-like chords, suffers from Heath’s unstable time, which raises the question why no one felt the need to include a faultless take.

Skaff’s resonant, robust tone alludes to both Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. Coincidentally or not, Skaff included the spicy Paris Eyes, a Larry Young tune that featured Green in the mid-sixties. Furthermore, Skaff shares Kenny Burrell’s fascination for Duke Ellington, adding to the repertory both Angelica and Lady Of The Lavender Mist, the former a flexible reading underlined by Heath’s persuasive, exotic snare rolls, the latter a poised and endearing handling of the seldom-performed melody.

Polaris climaxes with Arlen/Koehler’s Ill Wind, done all by his lone-wolf lonesome and a sublime example of Skaff’s gift to directly communicate a song to his audience. That’s no small thing and justifies the conclusion that this veteran of organ groups has stepped up to the majors.

Plannin’

DUTCH JAZZ SUBSIDY NATIONAAL PODIUM PLAN –

They used to call it “scufflin'”. I remember reading about tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks, virtually unknown during his lifetime but posthumously heralded as one of the finest hard bop saxophonists of the sixties on the strength of his Blue Note records and side dates. Colleagues remember seeing the disheveled saxophonist at some corner bar, ‘scufflin’ for small change.

Times have changed, circumstances differ. But almost every musician knows the meaning of scufflin’.

In my country of origin, The Netherlands, there is a subsidy system. It is in need of revision, perhaps ever since it was started amidst the “battle” of avant garde and tradition in the 1970’s. There’s a problem at the heart of the system and that is bureaucracy. Firstly, musicians have to submit plans more than a year in advance but only 25 percent of submissions are granted. Secondly, there always have been doubts about the way membership of the subsidy commission is organized. Who makes decisions? Either colleagues or non-musical bureaucrats. It’s problematic.

Moreover, the Dutch government cut back on its cultural budget since the ’10s, which hit the jazz world hard. Clubs disappeared or had trouble paying musicians a decent contribution, which is often below the legally determined minimum wage. Conservatories spit out myriad graduates looking for work that isn’t there… The pandemic, obviously, has major negative effects as well.

Nationaal Podium Plan intends to better circumstances for jazz and world musicians. The initiative has been in the makings for a couple of years, instigated by, among others, saxophonists Ben van den Dungen and Alexander Beets, cultural entrepeneur Oscar van der Pluijm and Sena’s Anita Verheggen. It is supported by Kunstenbond, Toonkunstenaarsbond and Sena, representative organization for musician’s wages.

Van den Dungen commented on the plan in De Volkskrant on May 31. “All the musician has to do is sign in and propose a project in cooperation with the platform. Evidence that the performance has actually taken place is a prerequisite. The platform has to pay at least more than half of the minimum wage of 265 Euro. The rest is taken care of by Sena.”

Ben van den Dungen
(Ben van den Dungen)

There are other requirements. The grant is meant for platforms and artists that do not structurally receive subsidy. The group is required to have been in existence for at least a year with a minimum of six concerts under its belt. Point of it all is a cut on paperwork and sincere criteria.

Oscar van der Pluijm in Jazzradar: “The most important thing is that this plan helps to bring musicians to play at new spots. It doesn’t matter if they’re renovated churches or farm sheds or living rooms. Aficionados organize concerts all over Holland. They’re under the radar. We can support them and at the same time take care of a decent wage for the musicians.”

Jazz church
(Jazz church)

It is interesting to see how this thoughtful plan will evolve the coming year, not only from a jazz and world point of view. Pop music will most likely be included before the end of this year. Similar art forms and cultural endeavors should take note, as the plan challenges the idea of ‘commissioned’ grants for ‘winners that take all’.

Check out the website here.