Archive for October, 2019

Mondriaan Jazz 2019, The Hague

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Yesterday I went back to my former home town of The Hague with on my phone a ticket for, what I learned to be the third edition of, the Mondriaan Jazz Festival (or MJAZZ for friends). It’s a cozy little festival, in the large and small hall and cafe of the Paard venue, as well as the lobby and main hall of the Koorenhuis.

It was quiet. Too quiet. This had the advantage that it was easy to move about and queues for food or merch were short. But this festival deserves a larger audience, considering the great line-up of established groups and new talent. Given that it is the third edition, and I only found out this year, maybe their promotional efforts need to be dialed up a notch.

Tin Men and the Telephone

Tin Men and the Telephone

With a program like this, it’s hard to choose where to go. I started out in the Koorenhuis with Tin Men and the Telephone. This improvisation act (a piano-bass-drums trio with a twist) puts music to spoken word. For example, their track KPN takes the automated voice recording from a phone- and internet-providers’ customer service and improvises on the melody of the ladies’ voice.

In the MJAZZ set they mostly drew from their album World Domination Part One: Furie which takes political speeches by the likes of Trump, Erdogan and Farage as the basis of their rhytms and melodies.

I had listened to the album, but attending a concert certainly adds a dimension. Not only can you interact with the band on an app on your smartphone (we got to decide which world leader to improvise to, we also got to create melodies that the band would then use), there’s video as well (cut up to provide the appropriate basis for the music) of the politicians spouting their nonsense.

Very well executed, and full of irony. If you ever get the chance to go to one of their concerts, don’t pass up on it!

Art Ensemble of Chicago

Art Ensemble of Chicago on the main stage
Art Ensemble of Chicago

Next I went to the main hall of the Paard for Art Ensemble of Chicago. This ensemble has been around for a while, playing avant-garde jazz since the late sixties. However, it is only the second time they played in The Netherlands.

With two percussionists, two bass players, a cellist, a trumpet and band leader Roscoe Mitchell on the straight saxophone quite a stage full of musicians.

I expected to hear ‘traditional’ avant-garde jazz, with a large horn section blasting out a melodic tapestry, big-band style, larded with the occasional explosive solo improvisation reminiscient of John Gilmore. What I did hear was something completely different, but equally impressive.

It’s hard to define the performance in terms of genre or style. Mitchell initiated the performance with a prolonged solo on sax, using much overblowing and non-conventional sounds. Slowly but steadily, starting with the cello, more instruments joined in.

The compositions are largely devoid of melody. While this annoyed some people, including one loud and obnoxious old fart in the audience who was quite vocal of his dislike of what he heard, I could very much appreciate the meticulously executed and well-rehearsed soundscape.

Where melody lacked, rhytmic aspects took a front stage, much in the tradition of traditional African music. At times, with my eyes closed, I could imagine myself in the African jungles, surounded by the sounds of nature at night. Not that I have ever been there, but one can dream.

Only at the end did the band fall into a straight swing, as band leader Mitchell called out the musicians. The audience, all of respectable age, managed to applaud at inappropriate moments, thinking ‘Djembeh’ was the name of the artist. Yet when they left the stage, a standing ovation was their reward.

Glad I got to witness this rare opportunity to see the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Seed Ensemble

Right after, in the main hall, the Seed Ensemble took to the stage. A large group of young musicians from the UK led by alto player and composer Cassie Kinoshi.

It took a while for this band to get going and captivate my musical attention. Maybe they were still getting used to us (it was their first international performance), maybe I had to get used to the music.

This is not a party band, the songs are about heavy subjects such as political injustices (of which the UK has had plenty lately), the struggle of minorities in a society that isn’t all that tolerant and personal challenges in being human.

Where the aforementioned Tin Men and the Telephone take a light-hearted, almost comical and caricaturist approach to such heavy subjects, the Seed Ensemble approaches the subject matter heads on, not beating around the bush.

Especially in the latter half of the concert, the solo’s became more engaging. Especially trombonist Joe Bristow manages to convince. Although, to my taste, the horns were too subdued in volume, almost second to the dominating and at times unrefined wall of bass and drum (although this seems to be a recurring theme with contemporary London-based groups).

I think this ensemble has great potential, and I am curious to see them grow in their role as a performing band. While the second half of the concert managed to grab me, the first half went by without too much spectacle. The audience thinned out as a result of that, but those that persisted got their reward in the second half.

Nick Mazzarella Trio

Nick Mazzarella Trio at the Paard Cafe
Nick Mazzarella Trio

To me, this set in the small and cozy setting of the Paard cafe, was the highlight of the evening. An unassuming trio with Nick Mazzarella on the saxophone, Anton Hatwich on bass and the genial Frank Rosaly on drums, producing an energy that leaves even the most timid person shaking their limbs uncontrollably.

Rosaly becomes one with his drum kit, using every part to create rhytmic vibrations and pulling in additional chimes, metal plates and other objects to further enhance the output. Using the instrument in many unconventional ways. Torturing, for example, a cymbal and bending it to produce sounds akin of a thin metal sheet warping. But it is never for show, all his elaborations blend in to the rolling, energetic and captivating solos.

Bass player Hatwich effortlessly adds to this non-relenting rhytm machine and shines in a solo or two himself. With a rhytm section like this alone it’s hard to go amiss.

Band leader Nick Mazzarella steps in and tops it all of with his excellent control of the saxophone. Grooving repetitions, abstract melodies, carefully played slower pieces. And with modesty to give ample room for the rhytm section to shine (and shine they do). The result is a well-oiled machine firing of perfectly executed pieces that go straight to the jazz lovers heart.

This was the first time they played together as a group in The Netherlands. I can only hope it is not the last time! I promptly picked up a copy of their latest album on vinyl, Counterbalance, which Nick was so kind to sign.

Glass Museum

And that brings us to the end of the evening (for me at least) with a quick dash across the street back to where I started the evening: the Koorenhuis. In the main hall, the duo Glass Museum consisting of Antoine Flipo on keyboards and drummer Martin Grégoire were finishing up their set.

What stuck the most was their last piece, where keyboardist Flipo initiated a bass loop on his synthesizer, to which Grégoire provided a tight four-on-the-flour backing over which Flipo played spacy electronic melodies. The intensity increased gradually to fill the hall with a undeniable groove.

This left me wanting for more, so I hope to run into this duo again sometime to enjoy a full set of this genre defying music.


So, that was just a small sampling of what was on offer. I didn’t even mention Yelfris Valdés in the secondary hall, whom I ended up listening to in between Art Ensemble of Chicago and Seed Ensemble while chowing down a plate of Indonesian food so typical of The Hague. Nor did I mention Emma-Jean Thackray’s Walrus, of which I only caught a glimpse because I stayed for longer than planned at Nick Mazzarella’s Trio (I just could not tear myself away from that performance). Let alone Swart, which was programmed coincidental with Art Ensemble of Chicago. I had to miss that completely (but I’m sure there will be another chance in one of the country’s jazz clubs soon).

In the lounge / lobby of Paard there was a small market where I picked up some vinyl from record store 3345. They had a modest four crates of vinyl records, and managed to convince me to drop by their store on the Noordeinde to browse more of their collection. A small stall offered band merchandise from the performing artists.

All in all I did enjoy this festival, not in the least because it wasn’t overcrowded like the bigger festivals. A nice diverse line-up, and it’s always nice to be back in The Hague. See you next year, MJAZZ!

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