Eric Boeren 4tet


This is a review that I'm personally really happy I could write (there's a long, boring story that appears as a p.s. at the end of this review) about this excellent and extremely well recorded album, which I unexpectedly found waiting for me in my mailbox.

I've got reason to believe that Coconut is the fifth album by the Eric Boeren 4tet, a line-up that - according to the liner notes to the CD, penned by Boeren himself - came into existence in 1997. The degree of communication between the musicians here is really apparent starting from the first listening session, but there's also something that tells of the group's conscious decision to make the music really come alive: the music featured on this CD comes from the last of a series of three concerts played by the group, which makes the music even more lively and "telepathic-sounding" than one could hope for.

The concert was recorded live on Sunday June 3rd 2012, by Marc Schots in what to me sounds like a room with good acoustic properties, the music later being mixed by Schots himself, and two members of the quartet. The fine-sounding whole makes it possible for the listener to "see" the musicians performing inside the stereo spectrum, so making it easy for the listener to catch the instrumental interplay "in the moment", ideas flowing back and forth. From the left, we see Wilbert de Joode on double bass, Han Bennink on snare drum, Eric Boeren on cornet, and Michael Moore - the only American of a group featuring three Dutch players - on reeds, mostly alto saxophone. But I think the mixing process here to be of an "interventionist" type, not merely acting as a photo camera.

Listening is way better than a thousand words, and here the music is very captivating and "user-friendly". Sure, there's a degree of complexity that will keep listeners busy and interested for a long time, but the music immediately sounds beautiful - which could come as a surprise, should one take into account that the ultimate source here is Ornette Coleman's "perennial avant-garde"!

Listening to the first track, Coconut - five minutes that are gone in a moment - will immediately make the point apparent, a vivacious calypso - ably supported by Han Bennink's snare, here even impersonating a pair of timbales - which reminded me of Una Muy Bonita, a composition featured on the Coleman masterpiece titled Change Of The Century.

It has to be clarified that Boeren's 4tet doesn't play "covers". And that the group's timbral palette is (obviously) quite different from Coleman's, Boeren's 4tet lacking the shrill, "barely-controlled hysteria" which in the context of those times was perceived as being a feature of Coleman's quartet.

But let's hear from Boeren's liner notes to this CD: "The improvisation space is considered as common ground from which new forms and ideas can be launched. This contrasts with Ornette's group where improvisations are treated more as solo space."

I think that listening to Coleman's Change Of The Century side-by-side with Coconut could make young listeners incredulous about the reality of those polemics from long ago about Coleman's music, so swingin' and bluesy is the music performed by his quartet half a century ago. The music in question has to be seen in the context of the times, and so placed inside a framework where those compositional ideas were a hypothesis waiting to be tested, not something that could be taken for granted. The music featured on Coconut is, by comparison, much more "elastic" and rich, since the palette of possibilities musicians have at their disposal is nowadays a lot richer.

Though nothing is a good substitute for listening (I suggest listeners listen to this CD at an adequate listening volume, music will become more lively), here are a few quick notes about the featured tracks.

As stated above, Coconut reminded me of the calypso-tinged Una Muy Bonita. Here, as elsewhere on the album, Han Bennink's snare will make those who consider playing "only" a snare drum as a limiting choice change their minds.

At a bit more that 15', the medley of What Happened At Conway Hall, 1938? and Shake Your Wattle is the only long episode of the whole album. Theme, then it accelerates ("Yeah!"), there's a fine Latin-tinged melody, a solo by Moore plus rhythm, all flowing towards the more "rarefied" improvisation of Shake..., where a muted cornet frames an "African-sounding" reed solo that reminded me of something Coleman played in the Howard Shore-penned soundtrack to The Naked Lunch.

Percussion, a pedal from the bass, a hushed alto, cornet (here it sounds to me that winds have a bit of added echo in the mix), The Fish In The Pond features a mournful melody played unison that's not too far from the world-famous Coleman composition titled Lonely Woman, even if in the end the track also appears to allude to those more "bluesy" moments played by The Art Ensemble Of Chicago which were composed by the late, great Lester Bowie. Very fine snare, played brushes.

Little Symphony is a composition by Coleman off Twins, the version here having the same convoluted theme. A "motivic" alto solo, with an episode for circular breathing that has Han Bennink explode. There's a very fine cornet solo, played con brio.

A very rich combination of moments which also features a... drum solo by Bennink, Crunchy Croci inhabits a highly rhythmic universe.

Padàm has a "swing" melody, and a relaxed Moore solo, followed by the leader's muted cornet.

The three tracks that follow come from the concert's encore, to my ears sounding quite different from those that came before, with more added reverb, Bennink's snare being placed more to the right (audience's perspective).

The theme to the Coleman-penned Joy Of A Toy is quite easy to recognize, so swinging and fast, with a duet of cornet and what to me sounded like a clarinet. Fast and quiet moments follow each other.

Journal has a fine theme, and more excellent "swing" by the cornet and the snare, while the bass part reminded me somewhat of the highly-celebrated riffage played by Charlie Haden on Ramblin'. I'll use this moment to laud the fine performance by Wilbert de Joode on the whole album, halfway between Charlie Haden, Scott LaFaro, and ... Wilbert de Joode.

Quite appropriately, the album ends with a blues - by Booker Little, it's BeeTee's Minor Plea - the quartet choosing different colours from their palette, Boeren sounding a bit like Freddie Hubbard, and Moore like Eric Dolphy (to me, anyway). There's also a "slap" bass by de Joode.

(I'll put a personal anecdote here at the end as a little p.s. About twelve years ago I happened to read - on Down Beat - a very positive review of Joy Of A Toy, an album where The Eric Boeren 4tet, a line-up I'd never heard before, played a mix of Coleman-penned tunes and originals which had Coleman as their source/starting point. I immediately called my favourite record shops, but none of them had ever heard of this group - with one exception, but they didn't have this CD.

A few years passed, and it was time for a new album by The Eric Boeren 4tet - don't remember the title, I just remember there was a clown on the cover - but by now I was on the Internet, so I sent an e-mail to the Dutch distributor, and I was told that there were no more copies of the CD, that - just released! - it was already sold out. I was happy for them, but a bit incredulous, so I wrote back. I was told that the whole pressing had been sent to a big USA distributor, and so I had to ask them (!).

Readers will have no trouble imagining my surprise when I happened to find in my mailbox, for free, the most recent title by a group that I never managed to listen to by paying money. The distributor is not the same, I think.)

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2012 | Nov. 12, 2012