Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dutch Master

The Blueprint Project with Han Bennink
AS220 - Providence, RI
Tuesday, January 22nd

I was excited to learn that the legendary Dutch free jazz drummer Han Bennink was coming to town. I've gotten so used to not seeing much decent live music that I had nearly forgotten what it was like to so be excited for a concert. I had never seen Bennink play live before, and as I soon realized, I only have a couple of recordings that even feature his playing (Peter Bröztmann's Machine Gun and Alexander von Schilppenbach's The Living Music). Both of these records are nearly 40 years old, and while I'm sure I've heard examples of his modern work, nothing really sticks out in my mind.

Bennink was playing with a Boston-based group called The Blueprint Project that featured Jared Sims on reeds, Eric Hofbauer on guitar, and Tyson Rogers on keys. I had never heard of this band and wasn't familiar with any of its members. I felt that this group was at its best when it was playing relatively straight ahead. While I'm definitely more a fan of free playing, I didn't feel like they played as well free as they did in a more structured context.

It was hard to get a good read on Bennink's playing most of the night. Since the band played most of their numbers relatively straight, Bennink didn't have that much of an opportunity to really stretch out. He took a number of solos, all of which were pretty amazing. I was very impressed with the lyricism of his solo playing. I was also impressed with the way he was able to jump from loud to soft and/or free to swinging in an instant. His drumming is still as powerful as it was 40 years ago and he looks like he could have played all night.

I've always thought of Bennink as a "special effects" kind of drummer, a drummer who will bang together any two objects that might be able to make an interesting noise. Supposedly, he once set fire to his hi-hat on stage. There were no fires in this show, and other than splitting some drum sticks and playing with his feet a little bit, it was a pretty conventional performance. It was much more of a straight ahead performance than I had expected, but it was still a great joy to see Bennink play live.

The rest of the band put on a pretty good show as well. It wasn't an amazing show, but it wasn't bad either. One of my favorites tunes of the evening was a tribute to Herbie Nichols (called, surprisingly enough, Herbie Nichols). They played a really energetic Afro-Caribbean sounding number towards the end of the second set that really got the crowd going and included one of Bennink's best solos of the night. I was sure that they were going out on that note, until they went into another song. They definitely should have called it a night after that piece since there was nowhere to go from there, but all in all, it was a good show.

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