Jan Akkerman: Angel Watch

Dutchman Jan Akkerman was the gifted guitarist for popular progressive rock group Focus. The band had a huge international pop hit with the song "Hocus Pocus" in 1973. It was a novelty song of sorts featuring skillfully performed nonsense vocals. But behind the hoopla a great instrumental band stood. This is best exhibited on the group's masterpiece progressive rock and fusion album Moving Waves. Somehow, at least in America, the band never quite caught on after its initial splash. Fame is fickle.

Akkerman's guitar prowess is evident for all to hear on his 1977 release Jan Akkerman. "Angel Watch" features his rock guitar infused with jazz, blues and a certain European elegance. The tune's opening sequence is convincingly beautiful. Long sustained notes reverberate above a string background. Much in the Focus tradition, a fusion opus is underway. Akkerman turns to speed runs after the introduction. The cut does have a weakness amplified by the passage of time. It becomes a little too funky for its own good in a short cheesy outdated synthesizer section. The disco beat doesn't help either. Thankfully that wrong turn ends soon enough and Joachim Kuhn and Cees Van Der Laarse do some high-level jazz playing. Akkerman returns in full force as the tune plays out its tight and impressive string.

Though Akkerman's career slowed down since much of that his own choice in recent years he has been more visible and regularly plays the European jazz festival circuit.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Chris Beckers: Shooting Colours

In the early '80s Dutch guitarist Chris Beckers was looking for a way to have complete control over the creation and distribution of his music. To that end he started Criscrazz Records, which was quite an unusual thing to do back in those days. Over the years he has attracted some of the best jazz and rock musicians to play with him, and has produced for many others. In 1993 he produced and played on the album Wild Kingdom which featured fusion superstar Billy Cobham.

The comparison between the cut "Shooting Colours" and anything the Pat Metheny Group ever did cannot be ignored. Beckers's tone and melodic approach in the introduction are identical to Metheny's. Pianist Van't Hof even sounds like Lyle Mays. And yes, believe it or not, Billy Cobham sounds like Danny Gottlieb. Only bassist Schimscheimer (spell that fast once!) does not come off like his PMG counterpart Mark Egan. But all of this is true only for the first half of the song. From midpoint on, Beckers's tone and attack change drastically. He is his own man. And man, can he play! Cobham performs with the expected Cobham power. The tune catches a fusion wave that takes us for a ride. The Pat Metheny-like moments sound good and serve as a fine jumping-off point for the more original stuff that follows.

July 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Ernst Reijseger & Franco D'Andrea: Two Colors

Reijseger and D'Andrea are two strong individuals whose vision of music goes far beyond the instruments they play. Dutch cellist Reijseger has brought his instrument far from the classical tradition, and his technical approach is both melodic and full of surprises. Italian pianist D'Andrea is an accomplished virtuoso who always uses his keyboard mastery to create unexpected clusters, rhythmic or sonic contrasts. Hearing the two together is a stimulating experience for the ears and a delight for the mind. With them, jazz truly is "the sound of surprise."

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Marc Copland / John Abercrombie / Kenny Wheeler: Lights Out

It is a rare treat when three musical minds find common ground and are able to create a soundscape that defies categorization. Pianist Marc Copland has done just that with the beautifully rendered melding of the fine and sensitive textural work of guitarist John Abercrombie and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. These three artists magically weave an eerily compelling movement of wonderfully vivid aural tones that transport the listener into another place. The deliciously sparse melody is never lost while these three magicians dance through their own individual interpretations of Copland's composition. Abercrombie's trademark probing guitar lines lead the listener wistfully along until we enter Copland's world of shimmering piano virtuosity that is familiar in its form but somehow unlike any other. Wheeler's hauntingly muted trumpet delivers just the right amount of tension counterpointed brilliantly by Copland's relentlessly somnolent chording. All the while Abercrombie teases out deftly underplayed guitar comps that fit perfectly. This is pure aural magic.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Willem Breuker Kollektief: Wake Up

After a loud chord that could actually wake you up played by the orchestra, the WBK shows its love of contrast: a slow melody with dark undertones is played by the piano alone, then becomes a lullaby of sorts in the hands of the full band. It swells as it's repeated by a trumpet, then a trombone before the full band returns. And that's it: with a minimal melodic material, the Dutch herd has worked out one more little jewel, thanks to each of its members' highly personal sound, and its leader's gift for writing tunes that blend them with a unique magical twist.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments


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