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Liner notes by Kevin Whitehead
What a romantic Chris Abelen is.
He puts together a quintet, chuckles over the chaos the first rehearsals produce, boasts of how one member hates playing in it, barely works it, makes a CD (“Dance of the penguins,” BVHaast) barely as long as a short LP, and then puts four of the same tunes on this live sequel - not in extended versions, however, as one of said encores is the shortest piece on a program of pieces so short they barely have time to develop at all.
What a romantic Abelen must be to even try this.
What a lot of romancing he must have to do to get away with it.
There are right and wrong ways to make music, to judge by the results, but some of the right ones are wrong and vice versa.
Right: Get a rhythm section used to playing together, to ensure a smooth ride. No, wrong: They may coast on automatic, reminding listeners of the all the other bands with the same rhythm section.
Wrong: Assemble a band (like this one) where everyone’s timing is different, and sometimes no one takes care of the timekeeping at all.
No, right: Try “Parking” circa 3:20, hear how guitar, bass and drums deal with time behind the tenor saxophone.
(Nothing like just winning the Dutch national jazz prize to give a guitarist license to step out, which Corrie van Binsbergen does a bit here, but in an ensemble like this she values space as few guitarists do.)
They all go their own way but somehow it makes perfect sense.
Now hear all four behind Abelen’s trombone solo on ‘Ploink,” for a rather different effect, and check out his shimmering vibrato and sound while you’re at it.
What a romantic he must be to aim for a sound like that.
Mischa Mengelberg has said, free jazz would make good singles music: three minutes is enough.
This isn’t free jazz – that would require some kind of consensus on the part of the musicians, some of whom only cross paths in this quintet - but these pieces aspire to that kind of concision: the players know they better find each other in a hurry, ‘cause it’ll all be over in a blink, given Chris’s hair-trigger for cueing in a closing theme.
Keeping improvisations short has the added virtue of preventing the band from locking into a groove for so long, it becomes an automatic reference point the next time they’re in trouble. (The point of reprising tunes from ‘Dance of the Penguins,” of course, is to let you hear the different ways the same pieces can be developed.)
What a moron Abelen would be if he didn’t write tune that lent themselves to his working method.
His short pithy themes are ready departure points for open improvising, and their clarity contrasts nicely with the undulating arrangements, Corrie’s eel-like solo lines, or Toby Delius’s way of stretching a note-hear him ending “ Hoover” – or Wilbert de Joode’s of stretching time.
As conceptual ballast, Charles Huffstadt may keep a suggestion of the melody in the air when no one else does. That the players can sort it all out and make something happen in the short time before the leader calls them home, and do it every time, makes you believe in happy endings.
What romantics Abelen makes us.
What a romp.