Friday, September 5, 2014

"Cruisin'" with The Eric Ineke JazzXpress

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

“In 2006, Eric Ineke's JazzXpress came about. "While driving to a gig with David Liebman in Antwerp, Belgium, Dave said it was about time I started my own hard bop group. 'You should do this, and ask some good youngsters.' That night, Marius Beets was on bass and tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen came by. Marius said: This is what we've been waiting for!' Sjoerd immediately asked if he could be part of it. Of course he could!"

For the piano chair Eric asked Rob van Bavel, with whom he had developed 'a great rhythmic rapport' after they both had been part of the Piet Noordijk Quartet and the high-energy Jarmo Hoogendijk/Ben van den Dungen Quintet. Young trumpet sensation Rik Mol - just 22 while I'm writing this - was recommended by his former teacher Jarmo Hoogendijk, who had to retire from stage because of a lip injury.

The band's name was made up by Eric's fellow musicians. "They decided that my name should be part of it, and they invented the word Xpress, with the capital X. It looks good on jazz club and festival posters."”
- Jeroen de Valk, Jazz writer and critic

It is always a treat when drummer Eric Ineke “pays a visit” to the editorial staff at JazzProfiles; no mean feat considering that he lives in Holland.

Such “visits” usually take the form of him sending me a copy of the latest CD by his group - “The Eric Ineke JazzXpress” -  and this one proved no exception as the group’s new CD Cruisin’ arrived via the mail.

Issued on the DayBreak subsidiary of Challenge Records, Cruisin’ [DBCHR 74588] is available through Amazon, Challenge Records via this link and on Eric’s website which you can locate here.

Both Challenge and Eric’s site are also excellence sources of information about other recordings by the JazzXpress.

If you’ve not had the opportunity to listen to their music, you are missing out on one of the finest straight-ahead groups on today’s Jazz scene.

Much like the late drummer Art Blakey of Jazz Messenger fame, Eric’s JazzXpress provides a Jazz bridge to help young players cross into the mainstream style of Jazz often referred to as hard bop.

Hard bop is an intricate style of modern Jazz. You have to pay your dues to play it well and it is very important to have someone coach you along to find its subtleties and nuances.

Because of his long years of experience in performing with many of the greatest exponents of hard bop school, Eric is the perfect guide for the JazzXpress’ relatively young players although bassist Marius Beets has been around long enough to merit consideration as “second-in-command” in a leadership role.

In addition to being the perfect bassist to complement Eric’s quietly insistent drumming [with Eric and Marius driving the beat, you best move along or get out the way] Marius showcases his considerable talents as a composer by writing three of the seven tunes on Cruisin’.  He also served as recording engineer for the date and handled all of the mixing, editing and mastering.

After a brief hiatus from the JazzXpress, the young trumpeter Rik Mol returns to the quintet and makes his presence felt with his sparkling sound, his wonderful front line work with tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen and his inventive improvisations.

Rik brings fire and passion to the trumpet chair; close your eyes and you can hear shades of Red Rodney, Blue Mitchell and Carmel Jones. His horn can pop and be explosive or sound fine and mellow. His lines are fluid and full of his own ideas.

Eric also put Rik to work composing the opener for the session - Oak City - an uptempo burner that’s propelled by a rhythmic vamp laid down by the piano, bass and drums. The trumpet and tenor pick up the vamp and play it as a tag that pianist Rob van Bavel solos over to take the tune out.

Eric enlists van Bavel into the composition corps, too, and Rob responds with Just A Tune For You which is based on “rhythm changes.” According to Ted Gioia in The Jazz Standards:  “This is the granddaddy of jazz tunes. "I Got Rhythm" stands out as the perennial favorite of jam session participants, time-honored and battle-tested. Styles and tendencies may go in and out of favor, but this song never falls out of fashion. Indeed, so familiar is its structure and progression that musicians don't even need to mention the title in full—the bandleader just calls out "rhythm changes" and counts in a tempo. Usually the fastest one of the evening.” [p. 167]

Here, Just A Tune For You is played at a medium tempo and the famous song’s chords make it a comfortable vehicle for everyone to shine on including Eric who limits his say to some tasty four-bar-drum-solos. These days, it seems that long drum solos are the standard on Jazz recordings but, in my opinion, most Jazz fans don’t know how to listen to them and most Jazz drummers don’t know how to play them [construct them].

Eric has always led by example from the drum chair. Say what you have to say, but don’t overstay you’re welcome. There’s always a next solo and another after that. Keep the flow of the swing in place and remember the primary role of a drummer is to be “the heartbeat of Jazz.”

When Eric does take an extended solo, he takes it as his turn with a chorus as is the case on The End of An Affair. He stays so true to the tune’s theme that you can sing the melody while he plays his solo. No bombastic drumming here.

As the first call drummer for visiting and expatriate American Jazz musicians on the European Jazz scene, Eric had a long working relationship with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. Johnny had a technique second to none on the tenor saxophone [on any instrument for that matter] and he was a monster on up tempo tunes. But as if often the case with a lot of cats who can really bring it, Johnny could tear your heart out on a ballad. His beautiful phrasing on a slow tune almost made it sound as though he was singing lyrics through his horn.

On Cruisin’, tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen picks up on Griffin’s expressive way with a ballad with his rendering of Johnny’s When We Were One. Sjoerd’s tone is so rich and “full of juice” that it really gets the attention it deserves in the context of this beautiful ballad. Rik Mol shows up on the tune’s bridge with muted trumpet and van Bavel comps the chords in a slow and deliberate manner, almost as though he were accompanying a vocalist.

And surprise, surprise; when Sjoerd begins his solo, Eric and Marius stay in time instead of doubling it. The full sonority of Sjoerd’s gorgeous tone on the instrument gets to ring through on this memorable performance. Does anyone play Jazz at this tempo anymore? Eric Ineke’s JazzXpress does and in so doing, it makes When We Were One one of the highlights of the recording.

But for all his lightness on ballads, Sjoerd’s also gets a big blustery sound on the big horn that has all the dynamism and drive that one comes to expect of the tenor sax in a hard bop combo. Sjoerd comes to play; no one is pushing this dude off the bandstand.

In many ways, the “secret ingredient” or “special sauce” of Eric Ineke JazzXpress is pianist Rob van Bavel. The piano chair plays a pivotal role in a Jazz quintet. It becomes third “voice” with the horns; either in unison or in harmony; either in bass clef or in treble. While it may not be distinctly heard as such, when the piano phrases the lines with the horns, it can provide a bottom or a top and thus make the music sound fuller.

The piano takes a turn at soloing, but while the others are soloing, it is the only instrument capable of feeding full chords in accompaniment.

The piano is also a percussive instrument and as such is expected to be an integral part of the rhythm section.

So many ways to be intrusive and yet so many ways to make a contribution to the music.

It is a mark of Rob van Bavel’s maturity as a musician and the quality of his musicianship that he is able to perform all these roles so well in the JazzXpress while making it sound so effortless.

From any standpoint, Cruisin’ by Eric Ineke’s JazzXpress is one of the recorded Jazz highlights of the year.

Eric wrote the following insert notes for the recording in which he gives his take on the music.

© -  Eric Ineke, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Since I started the JazzXpress in 2006, eight years have gone by, and here we proudly present our sixth CD. We have managed to keep the same lineup almost the whole time, except for a short period when our stellar trumpeter Rik Mol was replaced by Rodolfo Fereira Neves, a fine young talented player in his own right.
When Rik came back in, the band got a new spirit and all the engines got retuned, as you can hear on his catchy "Oak City." The vibe is a Silverish one, which I love so much. Playing with the impeccable Ronnie Cuber recently got me back into Horace Silver's music all over again.

The eastern-flavored "Seven on the Rigter Scale" was written by Marius Beets, and inspired by some of the wonderful Dutch tenor player Simon Rigter's harmonic inventions. It opens with the composer's free bass solo, then launches into a camel groove evoking the days of Lawrence of Arabia. Sjoerd Dijkhuizen gets a fat sound on bass clarinet and Rik Mol plays a great solo on muted trumpet.

Marius's "The End of the Affair" is an uptempo burner based on the chords of a well-known standard, and inspired by Graham Greene's novel. (I didn't know the book, got curious about it, and recently found it in London in Hatchard's elegant bookstore.)

Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is a duet for pianist Rob van Bavel and me. I got the idea to do it from a recording we both made back in 1993 as members of the legendary Ben van den Dungen/Jarmo Hoogendijk Quintet. Rob's great rhythmic and harmonic approach is a springboard for my own playing here. In his solo he emulates Bill Evans's improvisation on the version he recorded with Stan Getz, which is a hell of a compliment to Bill Evans. We did it in one take at 10 a.m.

Johnny Griffin's haunting ballad "When We Were One" is a feature for our exquisite tenor man Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, who plays the melody with his heart on his sleeve. It's a fitting tribute to John Arnold Griffin III, who was a one-of-a-kind out of an era when jazz musicians were real characters, the kind we deeply miss these days.

Rob van Bavel's "Just A Tune for You" is his take on "I Got Rhythm" chords and fits the band like a glove; everyone gets to solo.

Marius Beets's "What Is This" is as hardbop as you can get, flying by on familiar changes. On the last tune, the remix "Cruisin'," the band sails into the 21st century. Marius did a great job on this one, and you can party on down with it as long as you want.

After 50 years in the jazz business, I feel still like a kid, and I'm very proud and grateful to be surrounded by such great musicians who keep kicking my ass.

Many thanks also to my longtime producer Fred Dubiez, who always gives me so much support.”

Eric lneke, May 2014”

The following video montage features the Eric Ineke JazzXpress performing Rik Mol’s “Oak City” the opening track on Cruisin’ [Daybreak DBCHR 74588]

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