Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Artvark Saxophone Quartet

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

Through the intercession of Bart Egers, a saxophone repairman based in The Netherlands, I have been fortunate to make the acquaintance of a number of excellent musicians on the current Dutch Jazz scene.

Ben van den Dungen, Dick de Graaf and most recently, the Artvark Saxophone Quartet [ASQ] which is comprised of alto saxophonists Rolf Delfos and Bart Wirtz, tenor saxophonist Mete Erker and baritone saxophonist Peter Broekhuizen, have all been referred to me by Bart and my Jazz world is much richer because of these introductions.

I continue to be amazed at how many excellent Jazz musicians  have come out of Holland in recent years, especially given that the total population of Holland is a little less that 17 million people [By comparison, the five counties that make up southern California alone have over 18 million people.]

So when Peter Broekhuizen’s of the ASQ contacted me upon Bart recommendation and offered to send along copies of the quartet’s three most recent CD’s for review and a possible posting to JazzProfiles, I graciously accepted his offer. The Swiss and the Belgians may have their chocolate; the French and Italians, their wines and cuisine, but no country on the European continent has better Jazz than Holland.

And boy, am I glad I did, as there is so much superb Jazz on these ASQ recordings.

It would be no exaggeration to say that I find the music of the Artvark Saxophone Quartet literally spellbinding each time I listen to it.

From every perspective - the technical aspects of the group’s musicianship, the structure and format of the group’s compositions and the creativity of their individual solos - the Artvark Saxophone Quartet has developed a rich world of Jazz themes that are uniquely their own.

Before the CD’s arrived, Peter sent along a couple of e-mail messages in which he explained in his own words how our “meeting” came about and described what’s going on the the ASQ’s music.

“My saxophone repair genius Bart Egers -you know each other- told me it would be a brilliant idea to contact you and send some music of Artvark Saxophone Quartet, a jazz quartet based in Rotterdam, Holland.

Yesterday I went to Bart to pick up my baritone sax and we were talking about 'Bluestories’, the 5th album of the quartet. Bart is a fan of Artvark and he just had heard our new baby, playing the whole cd 3 times in a row. I told him that we were looking for all kinds of ways to get our music played, heard and discussed. Our music is quite versatile, which we all write ourselves. Sources of inspiration are as diverse as Ellington, Weather Report, Steve Reich, dirty blues, Dr. Dre, Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Hermeto Pascoal… and on and on.”

In response to this message, I shared with Peter that I do not consider myself to be a Jazz critic, per se. I know how hard it is to play this stuff and I don’t want to put myself in a position of having to say anything negative about the efforts of others in this regard.

If I like it, I write about it. If I don’t, I won’t: it’s that simple.

Peter sent back this reply:

Copies of our cd’s are on the way. As told our fifth and latest, 'Bluestories', our third 'Truffles' from 2010, and our fourth‚ 'Sly meets Callas’ which features the classical soprano Claron McFadden, who was born and raised in Rochester USA and lives in Amsterdam. She is phenomenal, sings from baroque to modern opera and John Cage, headlined in the Scala in Milan, but also at the Mozart Woche in Salzburg, Austria [Each year around the time of Mozart's birth in January, the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg hosts the Mozart Week with opera performances and orchestral, chamber, and soloist concerts.], and with a modern piece in New York in Lincoln Center last year. And she had the guts to go on the road with us guys and create something new: Sly Stone vs. Maria Callas...

For us it would already wonderful if you could take the time to listen to the music. Of course we don’t expect anything, but if you do like it and decide to write a review, we would really appreciate it.

Thank you … Peter”

In mulling over the best way to present the music of the Artvark Saxophone Quartet to you, and, in so doing, honor Peter’s wish to help it receive greater recognition, I decided that I would develop a blog feature that enables you to HEAR as much of their music as possible.

With such a format, you can experience first-hand the extraordinary music of Rolf, Bart, Mete and Peter without having to dig through a barrage of words aimed at describing it

The problem was that given the thematic range of the music of the Artvark Saxophone Quartet, using only one of audio/visual example was simply not going to work.

So, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facility at StudioCerra, we developed three!

The first of these is from the ASQ latest CD, Bluestories [Zennes Records ZR1311002] and features the group performing their original composition - Charles in Detroit - which the sleeve notes describe this way: “What would Mingus, with his bluesy driven compositions and his energetic playing, be doing in Detroit if he were still alive? Would he be putting his hands in the air.?”

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This next video feature the brilliantly dynamic and expressive voice of Claron McFadden as she performs Tranehopping with the ASQ on Sly Meets Calls CD [Zennes Records ZR1201001].  Baritone saxophonist Peter Broekhuizen who composed the piece offered this annotation:

“The music of the legendary sax man, Mr. John Coltrane, was the inspiration for Tranehopping. One of the hallmarks of his never-ending search for artistic development was his composition Giant Steps. Using three tonalities to back up a melody, he opened a new chapter in Jazz. This idea is - in different ways - apparent throughout Tranehopping. For instance, Claron sings a melody based on three tonalities on a pedal, and, in doing so, she reverses Coltrane’s Giant Steps idea.

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Our last video features one of the few examples of the Artvark Saxophone Quartet performing the compositions by other musicians on the three, CD’s that Peter sent along. The selection is from their Truffles CD [Challenge Records CR73295].

The tune is entitled Whoza Mtwana and it was written by Abdullah Ibrahim, the late, South African pianist and composer. Born in Cape Town in 1934 as Adolph Johannes Brand, he spent most of his career in Europe where he was also known as Dollar Brand.

I thought it might be fun to end this feature with one of my Jazz/Art videos which combines the Artvark Saxophone Quartet’s version of Whoza Mtwana [by a South African composer] with the art of the Kenyan-born artist, Wangechi Mutu.

Wangechi Mutu’s work are currently on exhibit through March 9, 2014 at  the Brooklyn, NY Art Museum.

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To learn more about the spectacular music and musicianship that is the Artvark Saxophone Quartet and to locate order information about all of their CD’s, please visit their website at www.artvarksq.com.

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