Monday, November 8, 2021

Septet Frans Elsen NORWAY featuring Piet Noordijk - Netherlands Jazz Archives

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I suppose in some ways it was inevitable that the Jazz-Rock Fusion movement that began in earnest on the United States Jazz scene in the later 1960s and early 1970s would reach The Netherlands and be emulated there.

Every other stylistic development in Jazz in America reached Holland and was replicated so why not the melding of Jazz with Rock with its groove or in-the-pocket beats with a full-fledged percussionist adding effects, electric instruments including the Fender Rhodes piano, a steely sounding guitar hooked up to a wah wah pedal and other modulating devices and the electric bass guitar replacing the upright acoustic string bass, simplified and persistently repeated melodies, and  oscillating harmonies with a dash of Free Jazz dissonance thrown in for contrast.

Why not go with the times?

Of course, in the right hands, compositionally and with a stellar soloist or two and a discriminating rhythm section, there are distinct musical possibilities to be achieved such as those accomplished by Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul's Weather Report and of course the many Jazz-Rock groups led by Miles Davis later in his career.

Enter Dutch composer and keyboardist Frans Elsen and soloist extraordinaire Piet Noordijk and the music on Norway [NJA 2101] recently released as part of the Treasures of Dutch Jazz series by the Nederland Jazz Archief.

Go here for more information on the Netherlands Jazz Archief [the site translates into English and click on “Store” for specific order information on 

Frans Elsen/Piet Noordijk and the music on Norway [NJA 2101].

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Thanks to a gift from Frank Jochemsen who co-produced the Norway [NJA 2101] along with iconic Dutch drummer Eric Ineke, I was able to explore the music on the CD as well as read the back stories about how the recording came about because of the English translations of the insert notes as written by Rob Koster and Eric [as translated by Martin Cleaver].

In keeping with its primary mission, the NJA has issued CD’s by American Jazz greats who performed and recorded in Holland at the peak of their careers including Chet Baker, Don Byas, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins  and many historically important albums by first-rate Jazz artists including Ruud Bos, Rob Pronk, and Herman Schoonderwalt, among many others. Obviously the Elsen/Noordijk falls into this latter category.

“The collection of the Dutch Jazz Archive is located in the book depot of Allard Pierson – The Collections of the University of Amsterdam and includes materials from more than a hundred years of Dutch Jazz history. From 78 rpm records and tapes to digital music files, from negatives to posters and from handwritten scores to special objects.”

As can be discerned from the above statement, the NJA has an actual physical location in Amsterdam, but it can also be researched online as is explained via the following link.

If the format for Norway [NJA 2101] is any indication, each CD comes with audio restoration of the original masters, a host of photographs taken at the recording date and a comprehensive insert booklet filled with information about the music and the musicians who performed it.

Although musicians going off to wood shed or woodshedding is a common allusion in Jazz circles, remarkably, much of the music on Norway was inspired and some of it was actually composed in a log cabin!

Rob Koester describes how this came about in the following:

Frans Elsen in Norway

“In July 1970, Frans Elsen travelled to Norway for about two and a half weeks with my family. This was related to his first marriage, which was not going well at the time. I was ten years old when we undertook this exciting journey in a Fiat 124. My parents Piet and Riet Koster had rented a log cabin called Nyster in the Gudbrandsdal Valley somewhere between Hamar and Lillehammer. I know that Frans Elsen wrote several pieces afterwards named after small towns and rivers in the expansive countryside of Norway.

It was so tranquil; you could fetch milk in a jug from the farmer on the next hill. In July, the days were long and we made day trips through an area that seemed so desolate. My father and Frans shared a fascination with the Second World War. When we set off for the umpteenth drive around the area where we were staying, Frans spontaneously exclaimed: 'Look Piet, what a beautiful plain for a tank battle.'

They consumed a lot of alcohol, which was quite normal in those days. At one point, we had to go to Liliehammer because the duty-free alcohol bought on the boat had run out. In those days you could buy liquor in special shops in the larger towns in Norway, and Frans and my father made it clear with their hands and feet that they wanted aquavit.

There was electricity in the cabin but no radio. Fortunately, Frans had one of the first Philips cassette recorders with him with a stack of cassettes and so there was music anyway.

I am sure that my father and Frans Elsen spent their evenings talking about music, for they were both musical omnivores. Frans was a musician who loved “live” music and my father collected the same music.

There was no piano in the log cabin, so I suspect that Frans made notes of the impressions he gained and later translated these into the pieces he wrote. I vaguely remember a radio broadcast being made with some of those pieces and we were able to gloat because we knew what the titles referred to.

I managed to find twelve black and white photos from this holiday, but unfortunately, there are no people on them. I do have a picture of the log cabin, as evidence of the place where the concept of Frans Elsen's Norwegian Cycle originated.”

As to the actual tunes that make up the “Noorse Cyclus,” there are four - Harpefoss, Ringebu, Skåbu and Otta [all small towns in Norway visited by Frans with the Koster family in 1970] and these are combined with eight other tracks to make up Norway including lengthy, live performances of Skåbu and Otta which close the CD.

What stands out throughout these performances are the thought and skill that Elsen put into these compositions and the consistently excellent soloing of Noordijk who, at times, reminds me of a Dutch Paquito D’Rivera with his lighting fast ability to get around the alto sax and his use of the upper register of the horn.

Unlike much of what later passed for Jazz Rock Fusion in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, the music on Norway is not a mindless procession of limpid solos played over two oscillating chords with the endless drone of uninspired electric bass riffs and drum backbeats constituting the background.

Each composition is well-constructed and arranged to include unison horn riffs, vamps and interludes that add a degree of complexity and intrigue to the music.

Funky boogaloo beats and strong grooves laid down by Eric on drums that are complemented and enhanced by percussionist Wim van der Beek provide a rock solid foundation for all the compositions. 

In additions to Frans Elsen on keyboards, Piet Noordijk on alto sax, and Eddie Engels on trumpet [also a fine soloist], the “electronic atmosphere” is provided by Wim Overgaauw on guitar and either Rob Langereis or Victor Kaihatu on bass guitar. To top it all off, Ferdinand Povel, the fine tenor saxophonist and flutist plays on five of the tracks.

The funky grooves associated with Jazz Rock Fusion are best illustrated by the Frans Elsen septet on the four tunes that make up the Norway Cycle and this is mainly because they are played with such great taste and definition by drummer Eric Ineke who, ironically, is best known as an iconic bebop drummer in Dutch Jazz circles.

While they do not exactly “swing” in a metronomic sense, they are composed in such a way by Elsen so as to allow them to be driven forward by Eric and percussionist Wim van der Beck which serves to create momentum and excitement in the music.

All of the solos are first-rate with none of the musicians losing control and playing mindlessly nonsense just for effect. While the Dutch effort is imitative of the Jazz Rock Fusion in the U.S. in the 1970s, in many ways, this approach by Frans Elsen’s Septet is more fundamentally sound, both melodically and rhythmically as it does away with the excesses that sometimes detracted from the American model.

Interestingly, the innovative and progressive sounds and concepts on Norway never came out in a full album at the time.

“More than fifty years later, two brilliant studio sessions were found, recorded for the European Broadcasting Union and Radio Nederland Wereldomroep. The septet can also be heard live on this album during the International Jazz Festival Loosdrecht (1972) and in the original line-up as a sextet in the PePijn theater in The Hague.”

Norway [NJA 2101] as part of the Treasures of Dutch Jazz series by the Nederland Jazz Archief is archival Jazz at its best and I think you’ll find it a real treat as its music as vital today as it was when it was first conceived, played and recorded over a half century ago.

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