Harmen Fraanje, born in Roosendaal, Netherlands in 1976, is one of the most adventurous Dutch jazz pianists. He is a musician who is exceptionally active internationally alongside colleagues from France, Belgium, Scandinavia, and the United States. Harmen co-leads a trio with Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger and Senegalese singer Mola Sylla, performing concerts throughout the world.
His special abilities have not gone unnoticed. He has been commissioned to compose original music for the North Sea Jazz festival, in addition to winning the Prince Bernard Culture Fund Prize Noord Brabant. Fraanje is also a lecturer at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
In addition to the Dutch double bass player Clemens van der Feen (one of the Feenbrothers – known for their DSD release Feenbrothers Play Dave Brubeck at NativeDSD Music), his newest ensemble includes California-born drummer Tristan Renfrow. Swedish saxophone player Fredrik Ljungkvist was invited to join the trio as a guest artist. Fraanje says “I always try to create as much space as possible for the musicians I play with, so that everyone can concentrate on the present moment to tell their own personal story.”
His latest album First Meeting is a new DSD 256 (Direct Stream Digital) recording for the high-end label Just Listen. The album has an open characteristic with music that provides endless space for creativity. It evolved as music with no prepared plans but only full attention to the creative process. This is a way of thinking and playing that you do not often encounter in the recording process.
Illustrative of his approach is the opening track ‘Several’. A simple musical motif develops smoothly from behind the piano. In the meantime, doors are gradually opened for the tenor saxophone of Ljungkvist. It is music that is almost incomprehensible as if it were floating in the air.
Contrabassist Van der Feen is the author of ‘Bread Of Life’, a melody that puts you back on the floor with both feet and gives space to the poetic clarinet of Ljungkvist. The beautiful piano solo ‘Pi’ forms a bridge to the classic ‘Ida Lupino’ by Carla Bley. “I think this is one of the most beautiful pieces ever composed in jazz, so simple and so sincere,” says the leader. Melancholic sounds emerge from Ljungkvist’s tenor saxophone over the mobile rhythm section. ‘Fade’ forms an organic transition with slowly dying away music, as the title suggests. Fraanje’s subtle ‘A Small Ray Of Light’ brings “an atmosphere of light and hope” as the composer indicates. A mood that alternates with the meditative ‘XYZ’, a piece with recurring motifs and a feature for the drummer.
Impressive is ‘PH’, a homage written by Ljungkvist for Per Henrik Wallin (1946-2005), the ‘Thelonious Monk’ of Swedish jazz. This is a piece that has its roots in bebop. A flashback that is unexpectedly alternated by the free ‘Epi’, with a leading role for the ecstatic tenor saxophone. The compact and melodic ‘Safe’ forms a fitting contrast: “An almost Radiohead-like tune”, according to Fraanje.
‘Goodbye’ is a temporary farewell that makes you want more music from this unique Jazz ensemble. It is a special formation that gives this music a new dimension to the concept of lyricism. The fine DSD recording is icing on the cake as the album ends.
Harmen Fraanje Trio
Harmen Fraanje – Piano
Clemens van der Feen – Double Bass
Tristan Renfrow – Drums
Fredrik Ljungkvist – Tenor Saxophone and Clarinet (Special Guest)
Total time: 00:44:33
Van Medevoort, Holland
van den Hul 3T Carbon Cable
Horus at DSD 256, Merging Technologies
Grimm Audio LS1 Speakers
Audix D6, B&K 4006, 4011, Josephson C700A, Schoeps MK21, Sennheiser 8
Rens Heijnis, Custom Design
|Original Recording Format|
Jared Sacks, Jonas Sacks, Harmen Fraanje
MCO, Hilversum, The Netherlands, December 2017
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
Floor van der Holst, Ted Brady, Brian Moura, Bill Dodd, Cyriel Pluimakers
|Release Date||June 19, 2019|
Harmen Fraanje is a pianist-composer who, in recent years, has become more widely known outside of the Netherlands through his festival appearances and recordings on the ECM label with Norwegian composer- bassist Mats Eilertsen. Fraanje’s earlier dates for Challenge Jazz, both as a leader (“Sonatala”) and sideman (Eric Vloeimans’ “Boom Petit”), set the stage for a new recording under his leadership, “First Meeting”.
Jazz musicians forge a personal style first by imitation, then by elimination. Harmen Fraanje’s style, shaped by his studies at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, reflects an interest in extending back through the traditions of jazz and classical music, and forward into new directions. In Fraanje’s compositions, jazz phrasing and rhythm are refracted through the prism of a modern melodic sensibility. Now in his early 40s, Fraanje has a sound of his own, and you won’t mistake him for his keyboard contemporaries.
One of the virtues of “First Meeting” is the careful sequencing which connects the first six tracks of the album; the effect is of a coherent musical suite. The intensity of the opening track “Several” is balanced by bassist Clemens van der Feen’s meditative piece for trio and clarinet “Bread of Life”, which flows seamlessly into Fraanje’s deceptively tranquil “Pi” for unaccompanied piano. Fraanje’s arrangement of Carla Bley’s composition, “Ida Lupino” is followed by a “Fade”, a short interlude that bridges into the pastoral “A Small Ray of Light”.
In the second half of the album, the music takes on a harder edge and a darker emotional hue. American drummer Tristan Renfrow is the featured soloist on “XYZ”, a showpiece for subtle execution of intricate polyrhythms. Saxophonist Fredrik Ljunkvist’s composition “PH” recalls the post-bop of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. Ljunkvist takes his solo ‘out’ into multiphonics on Fraanje’s free excursion “Epi”. The final two tracks, “Safe” and “Goodbye”, as their titles suggest, return to a calm, if somber, emotional ground.
Jared Sacks, known to SACD and DSD music collectors as the chief engineer for Channel Classics, is a long-time proponent of DSD recording. Sacks recorded the Harmen Fraanje group in the legendary spacious soundstage of MCO, Hilversum. The original DSD 256 recording captures every nuance of the pianist’s touch and phrasing, the depth of the standup bass, the “air” around the drums and cymbals, and the wide spectrum of saxophone tones.
Producer Jonas Sacks writes: “Recording engineer Jared Sacks created the balance on the spot by moving musicians closer or further from the mics… no post-production, mixing or editing is done.”
The mix indeed sounds exactly like the positions of the musicians as shown in the session photos included in the liner notes booklet. That speaks to a commitment by Jonas and Jared Sacks to represent the musical performance exactly as it occurred in the studio.
Play “First Meeting”, and you’ll find that you just listen.
As I write these notes comes the news of a new jazz recording available on the Native DSD website. I just heard a track of it and it feels really good. It is the Harmen Fraanje Trio (and guests) entitled ” First Meeting “.
The recording was made by Jared Sacks himself (whom we met and interviewed at Monaco High End, also the Managing Director of the Channel Classics label). The performers are Harmen Fraanje (Piano), Clemens van der Feen (double bass), Tristan Renfrow (drums) and Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax and clarinet).
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