Amsterdam, Chicago, and all that jazz
by Piotr Michalowski
The Dutch jazz scene is as varied as it is quirky. Often celebrated for their humor, improvisers from the Netherlands are actually quite serious when it comes to musicianship and music history. Unlike many of their American contemporaries, however, they celebrate individualism and eschew imitation. While our mainstream jazzers often choose to mine a narrow stylistic range, usually from the 1960s, Dutch musicians treat classical, folk, or brass-band music, as well as the whole history of jazz, as a source for their creative palettes. When they are funny, it is often in a manner reminiscent of Dada, mixing Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk with oom-pah marching drums, or filling out a short recording with the sounds of a pet parrot.
Eric Boeren plays trumpet and cornet now, but he started on euphonium and tuba in a local brass band. Once he fell in love with improvised music, he concentrated on the cornet and began his apprenticeship in the lively Amsterdam scene. He was soon performing with older musicians, and established himself as one of the top improvising brass players in the city. If one looks at the lineups of the great Dutch improvising ensembles, Boeren seems to be almost everywhere. One group that he has been associated with for many years is Available Jelly, one of the highlights of the 2003 edition of the local Edgefest.
In 1995 he started his own quartet, concentrating on the music of Ornette Coleman as well as on his own compositions. In the hands of Boeren and his colleagues, the radical music of Coleman is contextualized, becoming less strange without losing its originality. Listening to the recordings that juxtapose Boeren's compositions and those of the great American new music pioneer, one is struck by how well the Dutchman's writing holds up to Coleman's. Like so many of his countrymen, the trumpeter finds inspiration seemingly everywhere; when asked to list his loves, he mentions Louis Armstrong, Bubber Miley, and other older
players, as well as contemporaries. Among composers he mentions Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, and Charles Ives, as well as György Ligeti.
Boeren's quartet for this year's U.S. tour, which makes a stop at Kerrytown Concert House on Tuesday, November 6, is a joint American-Dutch project. Bassist Nate McBride and drummer Mike Reed are important players in the current new music revival in Chicago. The other Amsterdamer is Cor Fuhler, a bandleader and composer who loves to play a broad range of electronic keyboards as well as the acoustic piano. He even invented his own instrument, the Keyolin, which allows him to play the violin by means of a keyboard. His music knows no boundaries, as he picks strands and strains from every possible source and yet blends them all into something that constitutes a personal style. Boeren and Fuhler are old friends who have played and recorded with each other in numerous contexts.
[Review published November 2007]