Archive for the 'Music' Category

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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Roeland Celis Quintet

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Somewhat by accident I ended up at the last day of the 44th edition of JAZZBOZ, and boy am I glad I did. After digging through some crates at the vinyl market, it was time to head into the ‘Markiezenhof’, dubbed the ‘city palace’ of Bergen op Zoom, for live jazz. The Roeland Celis Quintet, a group of five young but impressive musicians led by guitarist Roeland Celis, gave an impressive performance.

Roeland Celis Quintet in the ‘Hofzaal’ in Bergen op Zoom at the 44th edition of JAZZBOZ

The music spans a large range. At points the quintet comes together to provide an impressive yet rhytmic wall of sound, thrust forward by drummer Gert-Jan Dreessen’s rolling rhytms and firmly underlined by Celis’ dark metal-inspired grooves. At other points, the band quiets down to play vulnerable, sensitive pieces that shows their mastery of their instruments.

Karel Cuelenaere is a gifted pianist, it’s a joy to see him playing. At points though the sound of the piano was overwhelmed by the other instruments, despite a PA set up to amplify Cuelenaere’s playing. Sadly, no audio technician was anywhere near. I think a big oversight of the organisation, this group and its audience deserves better.

What struck me was the rich emotional content of the material. The raw dark sound of Celis’ guitar emphasized by Sylvain Debaisieux’ wild sax, the melodic interplay between Cuelenaere’s piano and Cyrille Obermüller’s bass.

Despite the lack of an audio technician, this was an impressive and intimate concert. I do hope they will record and release a lot of music in the near future. But more than that, I’ll be keeping an eye out for future performances!

In the mean time, there are four tracks available for free listening on soundcloud, as well as at least two videos (here and here) on youtube that are definitely worth listening to.

The Roeland Celis quintet are:

  • Roeland Celis – Guitar & Composition
  • Sylvain Debaisieux – Saxophone
  • Karel Cuelenaere – Piano
  • Cyrille Obermüller – Double Bass
  • Gert-Jan Dreessen – Drums

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The sound of joy is enlightenment

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

It is sad to realize that I could have seen Sun Ra himself playing with his Arkestra but have not, as for a brief moment we both roamed this planet at the same time. At the age of 15 in the nineties, however, I had not yet discovered jazz and was not aware of this already legendary ensemble. Sun Ra himself passed away in the early nineties. However, his Arkestra is still touring and yesterday I had the opportunity to witness their concert in Sexyland in Amsterdam.

I remember the first time I consciously heard a Sun Ra record. It must be around 15 years ago, an internet radio station (I think it was, but it might have been played the out-of-this earth 21 minutes long Atlantis. It transformed me, it lifted me up out of the regular plane of existence. I knew then, this was something special.

It’s rare to come across a musician that has this ability. It has happened on just a few occasions since then, the most recent at the Vijay Iyer sextet’s performance at North Sea Jazz 2018.

But that’s for another post, back to Sun Ra. Hearing Atlantis triggered an obsessive exploration of the immense discography Sun Ra left us. And with each record that showed yet another side of this enormously diverse keyboard player, I wished I could have seen this brilliant group of musicians live.

While that is not possible, Sun Ra and many of his band members have passed away by now, the contemporary Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen (himself a brilliant saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist) and consisting of a number of original musicians who played with Sun Ra as well as more recent joiners offers a glimpse of the legend.

Upon arriving at the venue, the unassuming wooden structure on the NDSM wharf in Amsterdam north was appropriately covered in shiny gold-coloured foil to make it look like a spaceship. Part of the band was outside (it was a warm spring evening). Upon realizing it was ten past nine they quickly entered the building to don their similarly glittery garments. I followed them inside.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Here was a legendary band that has been active since the forties of the previous century (that’s more than 70 years mind you), touring today to celebrate their band leader Allens’ 95th birthday (this May the 25th). Would there be anything left from the bombastic explosion of alien sound that marked their concerts of the fifties and sixties?

Now, of course, this is not the 30-piece band it was. And yes, there were the occasional mistakes. But the spirit of Sun Ra was unmistakably there. Right from the get go they set into a hypnotic groove, taking me out of my surroundings and into their musical narrative.

Brilliant solo’s, from the almost 95-year old Marshall Allen for example, who demonstrated amazing control over his instrument.

Halfway the performance, vocalist Tara Middleton together with the rest of the band set in the chant “space is the place”, with part of the band leaving the stage and parading through the audience. A gimmick? Perhaps. Does it matter? No. I was transported, powered by their music, to regions of outer space.

I would not have wanted to miss this gig. I truly enjoyed the original compositions by Sun Ra as well as the compositions by Allen. It is amazing that Sun Ra’s legacy continuous in this day and age. And judging by the audience, his music still mesmerizes today. I expected an older audience yet the average age was probably around 20 or 25 and many were dancing to the groove.

I decided to go for a reprise tonight at Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht. It’s music like this that makes me feel alive, that inspires me, that makes me think about my existence and why I am on this planet. It is the sound of joy, and it brings enlightenment.

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Todays art: eerste impressie

Saturday, September 27th, 2008
Byetone bereikt maat 666

Zo, todays art is weer van start gegaan. Om 20.01 uur gaf Jetta Kleinsma op Den Haag CS het startsein door op een conducteursfluitje te blazen. Vervolgens genieten van een concert waarbij het station als instrument diende: met microfoons werden geluiden van rails, treinen, reizigers en wat dies meer zij opgepikt en door een stapel electronica onder controle van de artiesten tot een symphonie (volgens sommigen cacaphonie) omgevormd. Erg mooi, ik hoop dat daar nog een cd van uit komt!

Ik ga niet eens proberen op te sommen wat er allemaal te zien is. Een 20-tal lokaties in de binnenstad doen weer dienst als podium voor hedendaagse kunst: muziek in zalen als de Anton Philipszaal en de Nieuwe Kerk, dans in het theater a/h Spui, audiovisuele installaties en vertoningen in het filmhuis en ga zo maar door.

Enkele hoogtepunten van deze eerste avond: bovenaan de trap van het Spuiplein een tweetal tesla-zuilen waar de vonken overspringen. De frequentie van de vonken wordt zo geregeld, dat er tweetonige muziek wordt voortgebracht. Eerder op youtube gezien, in het echt erg gaaf!

In de Nieuwe Kerk zagen we Byetone, een audiovisuele performance waar de muziek wordt gevormd door pure sinus-golven te combineren. Wie wel eens een sinus op 20hz door een set goeie speakers heeft gespeeld kan zich iets voorstellen bij de kracht van de bass. ‘Rez on steroids’, zo zou ik het willen omschrijven. Wederom: erg gaaf!

In het filmhuis een aantal meditatieve installaties en vertoningen, maar ook een ‘dependance’ van het nemo festival: audiovisuele producties. Honden gefilmd met een hoge-snelheids camera, supervertraagd afgespeeld. Apocalyptische computer-gegenereerde korte films, noem het maar op. Lekker even achterover genieten.

De avond afgesloten met disco in het paard. Het feest gaat daar nog wel even door, ik moet toch maar gaan slapen want morgen (straks) staat er weer wat politiek op het programma: de regiobijeenkomsten van het toekomstcircus van GroenLinks. En ik heb al zo weinig geslapen deze week!

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Todays Art 2008

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Ik begon me al wat zorgen te maken, na de oproep voor vrijwilligers had ik er namelijk weinig meer over gehoord. Maar gelukkig trof ik gisteren bij de balie van bink36 een flyer aan van todays art, het betere festival in Den Haag:

Todays Art flyer, front

Todays Art flyer, back

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