Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Houdini’s – “Kickin’ In The Front Window”

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There is something very magical about this band called The Houdini's. The six young Dutch masters who first travelled to America in 1991 to record at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder stu­dio, appear to be, like that famous engineer, wizards when it comes to sound. The group combines sophisti­cated, often daring harmonies with clever juxtapositions of rhythms to create the sonic illusion of a much larger band than a three horn sextet.”
- Russ Musto, Insert Notes to Kickin’ in the Front Window [Timeless CD SJP 405]

“If one is trying to understand the everlasting debate about what is happening in the field of jazz nowadays, he will find that the 'know-it-alls', in their tendency of labeling and polarization, have two options available for the new jazz talent. Either the musician gets himself a hip outfit, a stage full of overly expensive electronic-equipment and accordingly a pile of debts, or he puts on a shabby face, dives into the past of bebop and proclaims it sacred. All of this is nonsense of course, since jazz is a very lively and independent form of music, giving its comment on events of its own time. Jazz should not move into rock music's place nor become the musical conscience of those who can't move away from Lady Nostalgia.

If you ask me, THE HOUDINI'S won't have themselves labeled in either way, and that alone is already worth mentioning. During their numerous live-performances this successful jazz-sextet proves that it is very well possible to combine certain acquisitions from the past with more recent musical developments and keep their own kind of music very much alive.

Exciting compositions (most of them are originals) and all soloists with a daring bravura make an unique event out of every live-concert for the audience as well as for the musicians. Therefore it has been a wise decision to record this first HOUDINI'S-CD live in one of the better jazz clubs in Holland. No colorless digital studio sound but a very fine live-recording of an astoundingly hard working jazz group with a more than enthusiastic audience. Thrilling music without boundaries, not made to have itself labeled whatsoever unless you want to label it for its high quality, and there is no harm at all in doing that.”
- Hans Dulfer, Insert Notes to The Houdini’s: Live at The Paradox [Timeless CDSJP 349;translated from the Dutch by Angelo Verploegen]

“The North Sea Jazz Festival every summer in The Hague is an enormous musical buffet. Hundreds of musicians play hour after hour all at once on thirteen stages around the Concertgebouw.  It’s impossible to listen to everything, so I meander from gig to gig. If the music doesn’t excite me I’ll venture elsewhere. If the music is good, I’ll stay a while. But there’s always so much happening that I almost never stay for a whole performance.

One delightful exception at the North Sea 1991 was the performance of a young Dutch band – The Houdini’s …. I was also amused by the name. I mean, whill The Houdini’s play magical Jazz? … [Listening to them play] It felt as though I had walked into a time warp.

What I heard was Village Vanguard in the 1960s [because] what The Houdini’s played was vintage Blue Note, or that’s what the music felt like.

They weren’t playing the actual Lee Morgan or Hank Mobley or Art Blakey tunes. They were playing original tunes, but with a groove and a spirit very much like the Jazz Messengers.

They weren’t imitating the Blue Note sound, they were refreshing it. And it was obvious that for them, playing this music is great fun. I felt the same and stayed to the end.”
Michael Bourne, Insert Notes to Headlines: The Houdini’s In New York [Timeless CD SJP 382]

There’s so much going on in the World of Dutch Jazz  that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles constantly finds itself returning to Holland for themes for its blog features.

The Houdini’s is a sextet that has become a recurring favorite since I first heard it about a dozen years ago thanks to a CD that a friend in Holland sent me.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the group’s recording debut under this name. Over this span of time, the Houdini's have undergone some instrumentation [trombone in place of tenor saxophone] and personnel changes in the bass and drum chairs, but its pulsating sound and driving rhythms have remained essentially the same. The group emphasizes very dynamic and well-balanced ensemble playing.

The three original horn players Angelo Verploegen (trumpet and flugelhorn), Rolf Delfos (alto sax and soprano sax) and Boris Vanderlek (tenor sax), started working together in 1986. That's when they recorded the soundtrack of the Dutch movie Blonde Dolly (WEA 242 084-1).

In 1987 they joined the Boulevard of Broken Dreams Orchestra with which they recorded the album Dancing with Tears in My Eyes (Idiot Records 832 714-1) and toured through Europe and Canada.

It was the musical director of this orchestra, Gert Jan Blom, who came up with the idea of putting a hardbop-sextet together for the 1987 Canada tour of Boulevard of Broken Dreams and named it “The Houdini’s.”

When the three, original horn players returned to Holland, they added a new rhythm section consisting of Erwin Hoorweg, piano and keyboards, Stefan Lievestro, double bass and Pieter Bast, drums.

With this line-up, The Houdini’s began performing at Dutch jazz-clubs [the Paradox in Tilburg, Holland] and festivals like HEINEKEN JAZZ FESTIVAL in Rotterdam and NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL in The Hague and appearing live on the radio-shows JAZZSPECTRUM and TROS SESJUN.

Thankfully, for those of us without ready access to The Netherlands, The Houdini’s have recorded many CDs on Timeless Records (Live At Paradox, Headlines: Kickin' In The Frontwindow), Challenge Records (Hybrid, Play The Big Five, Cooee, Live At Kiama Jazz Festival, Stripped To The Bone), Channel Classics (Porgy & Bess), Munich Records (Chasin' The General), Blue Note Records (Strange Fruit, with Trijntje Oosterhuis) and Social Beats Records (Unleashed and Remixed)

The band toured Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia and did co-productions at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with a string orchestra, the Amsterdam New Sinfonietta conducted by Richard Dufallo;  the Schönberg Ensemble conducted by John Adams; the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw conducted by Henk Meutgeert; the film score from Buster Keaton's silent movie The General.

The Houdini’s personnel today is made up of Angelo Verploegen on trumpet, Ilja Reijngound on trombone, Rolf Delfos on alto saxophone, Erwin Hoorweg on piano, Marius Beets on bass and Bram Wijland on drums.

If you are a fan of straight-ahead Jazz,  The Houdini’s is a group that’s well-worth checking out.

The following video features the group performing Kickin’ in the Front Window, one of their signature pieces, at the 1996 Kiama Jazz Festival in Australia. During their Australia tour, Barend Middlehoff was with them on tenor saxophone in place of Ilja Reijngoud.