Hollywood O.K. Pieces
Permeated with Dutch iconoclasm, pianist Guus Janssen has birthed a memorable
POMO session, by not doing precisely what you'd expect a radical to do.
His eight compositions are subversive not because they're in-your-face,
but because he's created sunny music without a hint of condescension.
Yet by letting the tunes go on to proper length -- the shortest is five
minutes; while four weigh in at the 10 minute mark -- and arranging them
for unusual instrumentation, he lets seditious impulses seep out beneath
the swinging melodies. You end up tapping your foot before you realize
the depth of musicianship that goes into each musical yarn.
Someone who has been involved with projects including fire-breathing free
improv, cutting edge larger band discs, solo harpsichord and piano CDs,
notated chamber music and the creation of an opera, the pianist is a master
of many styles. Most frequently he works in trio filled out by his brother,
drummer Wim, and bassist Ernst Glerum who is also on call for the ICP
orchestra and Available Jelly.
On this CD, however, Janssen's instrumentation relate back to the soft-bop
late 1950s experiments of bands like Bob Cooper's on the West Coast and
Les Jazz Modes in the East. They used orchestral instruments such as Cooper's
oboe and Watkins' French horn to create swinging chamber music. HOLLYWOOD
O.K.'s pieces are grittier than that, but they too feature an unusual
-- for jazz -- front line. Bassoon is played by Michael Rabinowitz, whose
associations include Free Jazz bassist Joe Fonda, mainstream saxist Joe
Lovano and the Mingus Orchestra. French horn player Vincent Chancey, was
not only a student of Watkins, but has been in Sun Ra's Arkestra and Lester
Bowie's Brass Fantasy band.
"Slow Step" and "Havank", which run right into one
another, demonstrate Janssen's multi-tasking at work. The former begins
with Glerum approximating the sound of a slap bass with Rabinowitz --
whose name is spelled incorrectly on the CD -- using his reed monster
to reference a 1920s' brass bass continuum. With Wim Janssen on brushes,
the pianist mixes his stride references with 18th century flourishes.
As for Peter Van Bergen -- the third front-line partner, who usually plays
sax in his own decidedly post-modern Loos band -- his clarinet playing
ranges from circular breathing exercises to Benny Goodman-like obbligatos.
As the bassoonist slurs out mellow, moderato color, Janssen key clips
and the bassist shuffle bows then switches to a steady pizz.
Although it then appears that the six are building up to another version
of "It Don't Mean a Thing ...", instead they slide into the
more than 101/2-minute "Havank". Played andante, it still sounds
like what would have happened if a bassoonist and French hornist had recorded
with an Ellington small group -- oh, and if the Duke had used key stopping.
Here, unison chalumeau harmonies arise from the horns, until a series
of plinks from the pianist and rolls and paradiddles from the drummer
turn the clarinetist to reed biting and tongue slaps. As Chancy interjects
plunger-like tones, Janssen comes up with a set of dynamic accents then
descending note clusters. Finally, as Van Bergen switches back to a flowing
Barney Bigard-like lead, the contrapuntal sounds build up, only to end
with a single Janssen key click.
Other tunes include a rubato homage to another Janssen fav, Cool saxman
Lee Konitz, that gives Wim Janssen space to show off some speedy Buddy
Rich-like bass drum work and his Gene Krupa style sizzle cymbals. A third
piece is so light-toned it could be a cabaletta and depends on the tonal
resemblance of Chancey's axe to an Alp horn.
Trombone-like grace notes from the hornist are the main feature of "April",
which is expanded with tongue slaps from clarinet and internal string
strumming from Janssen. Subversively, Chancey toys with snatches of a
familiar melody over a Latinesque beat, which reveals itself to be "I
Remember April", played slightly and deliberately off key. Soon the
pianist is contrasting dynamics and themes, with tune snatches appearing
from either hand. Over some montuno, conga drum rhythms, the horns re-enter
making a canon of differently voiced licks. Eventually over a low-key
ostinanto from Rabinowitz, the melody is reprised in an even more off
As it should be obvious, Janssen and company have created a swinging session
filled with offbeat surprises and suggestions. It can entertain the toughest
jazzbo, yet won't frighten the least committed fan. What more could you
Track Listings: 1. Angelicanzone 2. Slow-Step 3. Havank 4. Konitzology
5. Passage 6. Memory Protect 7. Tricot 8. AprilPersonnel: Vincent Chancey
(French horn); Peter van Bergen (clarinet); Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon);
Guus Janssen (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Wim Janssen (drums)