Sunday, May 29, 2011

Eric Ineke’s “Blues, Ballads and Other Bright Moments”

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights

Much of the time, the elements that make up a successful Jazz recording largely go unnoticed.

“Successful” in the sense of satisfying and “unnoticed” in that they are taken for granted, assumed or accepted. The music on a particular album is so good that the reasons why this is the case are barely given a thought.

All of us know when we’ve encountered such a recording because we find ourselves playing it over and over again.

Such has been the case for me recently with drummer Eric Ineke’s new CD on Daybreak: Blues, Ballads and Other Bright Moments [DBCHR 74064] which is due for general release on June 3, 2011.

I’ve been enjoying the new CD by Eric’s quintet so much that the only time I have had it out of my home CD player is when I take it with me to listen to while driving my car.


Why is this a recording that merits such attention?

The answers to this question begin with the musicians themselves. Eric has assembled a group of talented, Dutch Jazz musicians who with Blues, Ballads and Other Bright Moments are making their third album together.

This long association between the players lends itself to a cohesiveness which results in the music evenly unfolding. Despite changes in tempo, rhythmic styles or whether the tune is a blues, a ballad or a “bright moment” [i.e.: a “burner"], the pace of the album constantly engages the listener as it moves from track-to-track.

The interconnected flow of the recording is even more amazing when one considers that all of the tracks where recorded in-performance on three separate occasions, November 29, 2008, May 10, 2009, and May 14, 2009, and in three different locations in Holland.

In addition to Eric on drums, the musicians in his JazzXpress are Rik Mol on trumpet and flugelhorn, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen on tenor sax, Rob van Bavel on piano, and Marius Beets on bass. Ruud Breuls substitutes for Rik on three tracks and Rob van Kreeveld steps in for Rob van Bavel on A Portrait of Jenny.

Eric is a “stay-at-home” drummer and with him in command in the background, the horn players are able to calmly execute their solos – whatever the tempo – and create their improvisations in such a way that they “speak” to the listener.

Put another way, all of the quintet’s member have good technical control over their instruments and this along with Eric’s steady time-keeping allows them to “slow things down” [visualize] and really think and feel what they want to “say” in their improvised solos.

Of course, such improvised solos are really substituted melodies and when they are done in an interesting way, these continue to engage the listener’s attention because of the surprise of what’s coming next.

A drummer can just take keeping time so far without the benefit of the insistent “heart beat” or pulse that an excellent bassist gives to the music.

In this regard, Eric is ably assisted by bassist Marius Betts who “locks in” beautifully with Eric to keep the time rich and full sounding while also framing the chords for the improvisers.

Marius’ bass lines are so compelling and rewarding that the listener could go through the entire album just focusing on them.

Although arranging credits are not listed on the disc, judging from what I have learned about Marius from previous albums, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a hand in all of the arrangements.

Trumpeters Rik Mol and Ruud Breuls play the horn in a mellifluous manner with a heavy emphasis on the instrument’s middle register. Chet Baker and Kenny Dorham come to mind as compared to some of the more brassier and attacking styles of playing the instrument.

And yet, in both cases, it would be a mistake to think of either Rik or Ruud as merely clones of iconic Jazz trumpeters because each is very much his own man and offer signature elements in their solos that give them a unique quality.

There is a calmness to their approach that allows their improvisation to unfold and to create an impact on the listener.  You can hum or sing what they play; they are always so musical and so swinging.

And when it comes to swinging, no one takes a back-seat to tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen who “plants his feet” and really “brings it” solo after solo.  Take your pick - Hank Mobely and Tina Brooks or Zoot Sims and Al Cohn – Sjoerd is in the tradition of all of these tenor saxophonists, but his sound is characteristically his own. His big, beautifully rounded tone on tenor is never grating or shrill and his improvised ideas flow effortlessly and endlessly.

Like Zoot, you get the feeling that Sjoerd came to play and could play all night – even after they close all the lights in the club!

Given the fact that Rik, Ruud, Sjoerd, and Marius are all still relatively young men, another quality that impresses the listener is their maturity, and no one more so than another relative youngster -  pianist Rob van Bavel.

It’s difficult to play Jazz consistently well, especially in the role of an accompanist who is also expected to become a soloist.  There is a lot of responsibility in feeding the horn soloists chords, or “comping” in musician-speak, and doing it in such a way so as to aid and assist with the propulsive force being created by the bassist and the drummer.

Unless he is very disciplined and always aware of what’s going on in the music, a pianist can impede the soloist by overplaying as an accompanist and override the rhythm section through the use of phrases that conflict with the easy flow of the time.

Pianist Rob van Bavel walks this fine line with ease and centers the group’s music while also contributing solos that are exciting and engaging.

Someone once said that with the piano, the whole theory of music in right in front of you in black and white.

Van Bavel doesn’t abuse the privilege of having this arsenal of 88 keys at his command and always seems to chose well whether his role is to support or as a solo voice.

Among the seven tunes on the album are A Monk’s Dream and The JAMF’s Are Coming, both of which were written by Johnny Griffin the late, legendary tenor saxophonist who lived in Europe for a number of years and with whom Eric performed on many occasions.

[“JAMF” was in vogue as hip language for a short while and never quite caught on as phrase for wider public usage. It is an abbreviation for “Jive A** Mother F” …. use your imagination].

Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, Gene DePaul's and Don Raye's You Don't Know What Love Is, and the Dimitri Tiomkin- Nat King Cole collaboration, A Portrait of Jenny, make up the “ballads” portion of the program with Marius Beets’ up-tempo Jotosco being one of the album’s “blues” and “bright moments.”

For me, the disc's brightest moment is the JazzXpress interpretation of Nightingale, a tune composed in 1942 by orchestra leader Xavier Cugart and George Rosner with lyrics by Fred Wise.  It was recorded by Russ Morgan who led what was then termed a "sweet band" [think Guy Lombardo, Sammy Kaye and Lester Lanin] during The Swing Era.

The tune resurfaced again as the theme song for the 1955 RKO/Warner Bros. movie El Americano that starred Glenn Ford, Cesar Romero, Abbe Lane and Frank Lovejoy.

The soundtrack was written by the very same Xavier Cugart, the Latin bandleader who was better known to some by this time as “Abbe Lane’s husband!”

Played with a lugubrious rumba beat [which, by the mid-1950s, was being replaced in popularity by the mambo], the melody for The Theme from El Americano [as Nightingale was then renamed] is carried by the flute in the lower register in unison with a bassoon so as to create a sinister and mysterious tropical music sound [the film takes place in Brazil near the plains south of the Amazon River Basin].

In either of its earlier manifestations, Nightingale was a singularly uninteresting piece of music.

Enter the Jazz musician.

Jazz musicians are always making things out of air.  Someone gets an idea and the next thing you know a non-descript tune like Nightingale becomes a hip tune to play on.

I remember hearing tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca play Nightingale with a quartet that he put together in 1958 with Victor Feldman on piano, Scott LaFaro on bass and Stan Levey on drums.

Richie had recently been with the Kenton band and he would sometimes sub for tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse Café All-Stars around this time with Scotty sitting in on bass during the last set of the evening at the club. Victor and Stan were already members of Howard’s group.

In the spring of 1959, Scott LaFaro went out on tour with the Stan Kenton band and when he came back he kept talking about this cool tune that Joe Coccia had arranged for the band entitled – you guessed it – Nightingale. It was a feature for Kenton trombonist Archie LeCoque.

Richie may have also known of the tune from his time on the Kenton band.

He and Scotty taught it to Victor.

In the fall of 1959, Richie and Victor joined drummer Shelly Manne’s quintet for a two week engagement at the Black Hawk in San Francisco.  The result of this two week stint can be heard on the legendary live recordings that were issued on Contemporary Records.

One of the tunes that Shelly’s group recorded in performance at The Black Hawk was none other than Nightingale.

And there the matter stood until over 50 years later when Eric kindly sent me the advanced copy of his group’s latest CD which forms the basis for this review.

The opening track on the disc is Eric’s swinging version of Nightingale which you can hear on the following video.

It really is a small world after all, especially when you pay attention to the details.