Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Younger Set Checks Out Willem Breuker

Last Saturday, the Willem Breuker Kollektief came to Pittsburgh and I took my five-year old son to the show with me. I wanted to check out the show and didn't want to just see Donovan for an hour between work and the show, so the night before, I casually asked if he wanted to go. It was taking place at the First Unitarian Church, which we attend pretty regularly. Further, the kid just got a pair of headphones that block out excess volume, so if things got too free, the volume wouldn't be an issue.

Much to my surprise, he said he'd come. Someday he'll get mad at me for saying this, but the fact that he said that doesn't really mean anything. He's just as likely to admit he "changed his mind," and to freak out. But sure enough, we got there right as things were starting and he was cool. Well, he didn't have the headphones on by the time the band hit the downbeat, so there was a little bit of scrambling.

If anyone reading this has a chance to check out the Kollektief as they finish up their final tour, do it. Breuker himself passed away a few years ago and the ensemble is taking one final tour to pay tribute to this unique voice from the Netherlands. His music draws on traditional big band (the saxophones were frequently harmonized in a way that sounded like a swing band), free settings and more classical approaches to composition. And they do it without sounding like a patchwork of styles. It sounds really unique.

The first piece had the swing feel going for it, although it was definitely an example of "swinging hard," rather than something that my folks would get into. The second piece had more of a Mingus feel, like something connected to "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady." Frans Vermeerssen played an amazing alto solo full of skronks and growls like I've never heard before, all held together by some miraculous circular breathing. The soloists were all pretty loud because they came to the center stage where there was a microphone, which really boosted the already clear volume. Even when the headphones on, this seemed to effect the kid.

It was hard to tell during the next few pieces if they were seguing several compositions together or if we were hearing a long, multi-part suite because they didn't take an actual break between songs for close to half an hour. They played over a 6/8 vamp and Henk de Jonge soloed in a way that went from low and calm into loud and thunderous, quoting Beethoven and Bach along the way(the former being a conspicuous "Fur Elise" quote, while the latter I only recognized because the Fugs borrowed it too). Later in the set, speaking of quotes, bassist Arjen Gorter threw in the riff to Mingus's "Haitian Fight Song" during his solo. It seemed less like a crowd-pleasing gesture than a sly wink, so it worked.

Donovan watched and listened intently for about 15 minutes, which is pretty admirable for a kid his age. We brought along his backpack which had a book in, so after awhile he sat and read Green Eggs and Ham. When that was done, he took my note pad and started sketching on it. Then he pulled out his piano lesson notebook from the backpack. His teacher draws pictures for each song that he has to practice, resulting in a lamb for "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and a broken bridge for "London Bridge." So he spent more time looking at the lambs and drawing them onto another page.

By the time he decided he had had enough, and I felt that I had gotten my money's worth, we headed for the door - and as fate would have it, the Kollektief finished their last song. (The set was about an hour and 20 minutes.) So everybody won. Well, sort of.

Him: I did NOT like it.
Me: Well, that's okay. At least you were a good boy during the show.
Him: I was NOT a good boy.

As I said earlier, you can't always gauge the truth from what he tells you. Maybe he really did like it. I do know he liked the Kollektief CD that I bought at the show and played yesterday.

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