Report by Rosalie Genay
Being from The Netherlands, but having lived abroad for over twelve years, I was keen to get more of an insight into Dutch jazz from an informed Dutch perspective.
Outside of our little country, Dutch jazz is probably most famous for the exciting improvised sector of the 50’s and 60‘s, at a time where musicians were moving away from copying their cross-Atlantic counterparts; it’s often described as unconventional and radical: heavily improvised music bordering on absurdism, but as Henning Bolte points out correctly: ‘absurdism’ is relative. It might have more to do with other aspects of the Dutch; stripped back, almost pure or puritan in contrast to for example the french opulence and baroque stylistic elements.
So I was interested in the Dutch delegation’s contribution to the London Jazz Festival this year, as well as panel talks introduced by the charming BBC radio 3‘sAlyn Shipton on the background and history of Dutch jazz made possible by the constructive collaboration of the Dutch Embassy and Serious.
The afternoon event held at the Barbican announced the beginning of the Dutch performances at this year’s jazz festival, with BRUUT!, KAPOK, and DASH! on the free stage supplemented by talks from critic and journalist Henning Bolte and Drs Loes Rusch; Phd Candidate in Jazz and Improvised Music.
Jazz from the Low Countries – Talk by Henning Bolte
Henning Bolte lead the afternoon setting out the characteristics of the Dutch scene using key figures such as Han Bennink, Willem Breuker and Misha Mengelberg, later relating the featured bands that were playing the afternoon to these cornerstones as well as shedding light on the scene then and now.
A very interesting idea Bolte briefly touched upon was the influence of landscape in music: think of the often noted as being loud or even volcanic (John Fordham: read review) the celebrated drummer/precussionist Bennink, surrounded by the flat, harsh and exposed Dutch environment… To be able to be heard against those elements, one has to cut through with volume.
Bolte mentioned three main characteristics of Dutch jazz: the use of rare instruments; string instruments feature heavily in (improvised) Jazz, the presence of theatrical elements rather than absurdism (with an anecdote pointing out some perceived absurdism originated from practicality, seemingly a juxtaposition) and ‘the reconciliation of classically notated and improvised music’. Currently there appears to be a resurgence of classical and jazz musicians fighting together for same cause, with David Kwebsilver being one of the musicians at the forefront.
Bruut! are described as ‘creating a 21st century take on the 60s through a blurred vision of lava lamps and photoshopped boogaloo’. Though Bruut! was rather not as brutal as the name suggests; I was perhaps expecting something a tad less polite, and definitely not the swing that they bring (sorry). But swing they did with Maarten Hogenhuis on Sax (and mic), Folkert Oosterbeek on Hammond, Thomas Rolff on Bass and the German Felix Schlarmann.
The second talk was delivered by Drs Loes Rusch about the close relationship between the establishment of public funding system for jazz and Dutch improvised music, specifically looking at the Zeeland Suite by Leo Cuypers (1977) (video at the top).
The project was erected in a time where the government wanted to give the ‘new generation’ a voice as well as not wanting to be perceived as being conservative. Next to regional as well as national governmental funding, media coverage also played a significant role in Jazz in the Netherlands. Rusch mentioned that young, up and coming artists would work together and demand governmental support, which they often received.
Of course, we are talking about a completely different social, economical and political climate, but it’s an incredibly interesting conversation, especially now when arts funding in The Netherlands has been drastically cut (well, practically abolished) and the push is towards self- and private funding. The question was raised: Does subsidy kill creativity? Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for an in depth discussion as the next band were about to commence.
Kapok, consisting of Morris Kliphuis, Timon Koomen, and Remco Menting were already on the stage. If I am allowed to have a favorite, then I must admit they were mine for the afternoon. Winners of the 2013 European Jazz Competition, with an unlikely combination of French horn, guitar and percussion. Exciting and captivating throughout, there somehow was something quite understated about their performance.
Unfortunately, I only managed to catch a few tunes from the last band and biggest line-up, avantgarde funk ensemble DASH!. Playing global jazz from Sun Ra to Bollywood funk, with Alex Oele on Bass, Eric Hoeke on Drums, Vocals byRanjana Ghatak, Hilary Jeffery on Trombone, Maarten Ornstein on Sax/ Bass Clarinet with the UK’s Shabaka Hutchings guesting on clarinet. Really enjoyed the completely different vibe they brought, and loved the ethnic-inspired vocals from Ranjana.
Speaking to two of the organizers and funders of the event during the afternoon, I was glad to hear that they really didn’t agree with the above mentioned proposition about ‘funding killing creativity’, as without them, it would have been nigh impossible to hear even just the three bands on during the afternoon, let alone have a successfully running annual Jazz Festival with musicians from all over the world.
All in all a stimulating afternoon bringing up interesting ideas on Dutch Jazz, it’s background, characteristics and, equally important, it’s future, with three very promising ambassadors in BRUUT!, KAPOK, and DASH!