As winter gives way to spring, the inner landscape opens to the reawakened natural world. Two albums from Just Listen form the perfect soundtrack for seasonal change.
Changing Landscapes€13,99 – €38,49
Music that crosses genres can be difficult to characterize in words. “Changing Landscapes”, an album by pianist Philipp Rüttgers and violist Oene Van Geel, draws on classical, contemporary and traditional jazz influences. The combination of piano and viola is more likely to be heard in classical chamber music, but these two musicians are equally versed in jazz, rock and non-European traditions; they bring a wide-ranging sensibility into the acoustic duo performance.
The title track, composed by Rüttgers, floats the melodic phrases of Oene Van Geel’s viola over churning swells of piano chords. “Morgentau” features the Quintone, a larger-sized viola with a fifth string tuned low, that allows Van Geel to play in the register of the cello. Rüttger takes the piece through different moods, ending on a light, dance-like figure.
Van Geel’s “Seven Riffs” and “Skip Count Sweet Miles” display the violist’s swinging approach to the material. The two players are so tightly enmeshed, you could be persuaded that they’ve been long-time partners, when in fact this was their first recorded collaboration.
A well-programmed album takes the listener along a path of different musical moods. In the last three tracks, the busy activity of the day seems to draw inward. On “The Hidden Cave” and “Transcendental Being”, Rüttgers expands his keyboard palette with The Soundbox, an electro-mechanical device placed on top of the piano strings, with which he elicits soft percussive effects. Sung wordlessly by Van Geel in unison with his viola, an Indian-inspired melody takes us back into the landscape of the spirit.
Just Listen producer-engineer Jared Sacks transports the listener into the spacious acoustic of MCO, Hilversum for this remarkable set. Special credit goes to co-producer Cyriel Pluimakers for facilitating the project, and to Jonas Sacks for his excellent session photography.
Dances€15,99 – €38,49
What do you call music that’s composed for and played by jazz musicians, but that really isn’t jazz? A term that’s been around since the 1940s describes arranged compositions that are not based on bebop, blues or 32-bar song form: chamber jazz.
In “Dances”, composer-bassist Egon Kracht explores chamber jazz in long-form works that draw on many different eras of musical tradition.
In my music I try to find a synthesis between various genres… Pop, jazz, classical, contemporary, I find them all equally appealing.Egon Kracht
At his double bass, Kracht conducts an ensemble of long-time collaborator Angelo Verploegen (flugelhorn), Jan Menu (baritone saxophone), and Rik Cornelissen (accordion), through two multi-movement suites. The ensemble is balanced to emphasize the lower registers, and the absence of a drum kit allows all four instruments to have an equal voice, from the most subtle to the most boisterous passages.
A prologue to the two long suites, “Evolutionary Tango”, a meditation on the precarious state of our supposedly evolved modern culture, sets the tone for the entire album. The melancholy head melody is carried by Verploegen, with rhythmic punctuations from the bass, baritone sax, and accordion. Menu’s baritone solo floats fluidly over the changes: jazz improvisation with a chamber emphasis. An interlude featuring the accordion—the tango instrument par excellence—brings out the dance character of the piece. A slow march (toward what kind of future?) and a rhythmically charged conclusion with more soloing from the flugelhorn brings the piece to its finale.
There is a tradition in Dutch jazz, exemplified by the Willem Breuker Kollektief, of incorporating theatre and cabaret music into the framework of new compositions and improvisation. In the opening movement of “Civilization Suite”, circus master Kracht sends the band marching around a virtual ring as if to say ‘the spectacle is about to begin.’ A theme from Baroque composer Giovanni Felice Sances formally sets the dance in motion. Angelo Verploegen’s luminous flugelhorn glows in the resonant acoustic of MCO, Hilversum.
The English composer John Dowland is most often heard today in recordings or performances of his works for the voice and lute, and for consorts of viols. Egon Kracht adapts Dowland’s “Can She Excuse My Wrongs” for the ensemble, with Verploegen taking the singer’s role. Baritone saxophonist Menu replies mockingly to the flugelhorn’s plaintive song, with groans, growls and gritty melody-making.
The second suite on the album, “Galanthus Nivalis”, conveys hope for renewed life in the spring, when the Galanthus (snowdrop bulb) is the first to blossom. The opening and closing themes incorporate melodic fragments of two much-loved jazz standards: John Coltrane’s “Naima“ and Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti“. A Spanish-tinged dance interlude, two segments in slow waltz time, a rapid-pulse riff from the rhythm section with soaring baritone sax, and a hushed finale brings the suite to a close.
“Dances” receives my highest recommendation, for the astonishingly vivid sound recording by Jared Sacks, and for the ensemble’s inspiring and insightful performance.