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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Han Bennink Trio – Bennink & Co. (Ilk, 2012) ****½

By Tom Burris

Near the end of last year, the Han Bennink Trio released its second full-length recording and it is definitely no sophomore slump.  In fact, I think I want a do-over on my “Best Of 2012” list – but it's my own damn fault for not playing this one until recently.  Our hero performs his masterful chops on a single snare drum throughout the disc, which was recorded at a show in Belgium & diced into a dozen bite-sized chunks of easily digestible nourishment. 

The disc bursts open with a dissonant swing-bomb called “Klein Gebrek Geen Bezwaar,” on which pianist Simon Toldam reveals himself to be the consummate team player, coloring and reacting to every movement with subtle perfection.  He and reed man, Joachim Badenhorst, also punctuate “Suite In A Sea” together with this same exactness when they begin to accompany what had been a snare drum solo for Bennink and steer it into a sudden, curt haiku.  Of course, a snare drum solo from Bennink not only involves beating the drum head with sticks, but also playing the head, rim, stand, floor, snare and stool with hands, brushes, sticks, spoons, pencils, etc.  Plus with Bennink you are guaranteed to get an authoritative walk through the entire history of parade and jazz drumming, from the rudiments to complete freedom. 

The same can be said for the totality of the music on this recording, as it runs the gamut from Dixieland to marches to swing to complete freakout sounds – and it is always to Bennink's credit that he makes all of these different genres move as one.  It's all just music, after all – and the love and respect that these guys feel for American jazz is impossible to ignore.  When they take a stab at “Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland” the build-ups and changes in approach are always emotionally charged, witty, and daring.  (They also play Billy Strayhorn's “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” as a strange march before rolling wholeheartedly into the melody.)

Other highlights include “Dog,” which is a magnificent collage of free playing, melodic invention and careful construction; and “Ganz,” on which Bennink's love for marches and swing join forces in a melodic homage to Dixieland.  Badenhorn makes his clarinet fly inside and outside the music, marching in line before running away to grab a clown nose and then rejoining the line.  Toldam and Bennink lock in place brilliantly enough for Han to yell “Yee-Hee!” and then Badenhorn rips the clown nose off to play a melody line in unison with Toldam.  On “Klein Gebrek Geen Bezwaar No. 2” the trio release an extremely short, self-contained smoke bomb.  Free jazz goes hardcore punk, as performed by a 70-year-old man and his 30-something-year-old cohorts.  I think my favorite track at this point though is “Kiefer,” on which a strange elliptical melody builds until Badenhorst winds a line of Monk's “Evidence” into the mix, before the trio molds the whole thing into a soundtrack for an underground carousel for moles. 

The invention and originality of the trio here is really second-to-none – and they clearly see themselves as part of a musical tradition.  What they've done here isn't simply a masterful example of improvisational interplay or a musical history lesson – it's also a heartfelt Valentine to American jazz from a Dutch master.

Available at Instantjazz.

© stef


zebtron said...

Beautifully written Tom. This and the previous trio record are some of my favorites over the past couple of years.

Tom Burris said...

Hey thanks! Agreed on the trio records. Bennink rarely - if ever - disappoints.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best record to illustrate jazz evolution. The beautiful piece.

Anonymous said...

A vivid picture of jazz life and evolution. The sctrict traditional structure, the shape, the Law inside the free ways of choice: personal attitude and experience. The old thruth for youth. One blood. The beautiful record and great inspiration.