Willem Breuker, 1944-2010.
13 Ways of Looking @ WB

You must take the Driebergen train, if you wanna make it to Zeist.

Originally posted 4 December 2006.
In lieu of a full memorial post on Breuker — we’ve been hampered by computer/site problems of late, in addition to the slowing effects of this summer’s soupy slog — we are reanimating this entry on Breuker from 2006. Please see also this great contemporary response from Andrew Durkin, and the fine John Fordham obit from The Guardian.


Willem Breuker Kollektief
BVHaast : 1983

WB, soprano, alto, tenor saxes, clarinet, arrangements; Boy Raaymakers and Andy Altenfelder, trumpets; Garrett List and Bernard Hunnekink, trombones; André Goudbeek, alto sax, clarinet; Maarten van Norden, tenor sax, clarinet; Henk de Jonge, keyboards, Hawaiian guitar, glockenspiel; Arjen Gorter, bass; Rob Verdurmen, drums.

“Dutch saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and bandleader Willem Breuker is probably the single most well known, prolific, and influential figure in 20th century Dutch music.” –All Music Guide entry

“In 1967, Han Bennink and Misha Mengleberg organized the Instant Composer’s Pool with Breuker, who represented a still younger and more iconoclastic generation. A year earlier, the German pianist Alex Schlippenbach founded the Globe Unity Orchestra, the most ambitious of the internationalist collectives. Neither group proved satisfactory to Breuker: the ICP was close-minded about his theatrical and avant-garde endeavors, the GUO was given to conceptional free-for-alls. In 1973, he formed his Kollektief, a ten- or eleven-piece orchestra with an emphasis on compositional form.” –Gary Giddins, Riding on a Blue Note

This music is fun.
Drew: Funny, too.
Chilly: The avant garde gets a bad rap for not having a sense of humor. Especially free jazz. This gives the lie to that notion.
Drew: Like some of Jaki Byard‘s music, I get the sense that Breuker is often cracking jokes through the tunes. A little stand-up. Some serious mirth-making.
Chilly: The free jazz Spike Jones?
Drew: Well, I don’t know about that…

“The satire is almost relentless; often the [Kollektief] band seems to be conducted by Daffy Duck in a Gestapo uniform.” –John Litweiler, The Freedom Principle

“Breuker’s music combines harmonies that alternately cleave and chafe, melodies that recall (frequently with direct and extended quotations) numerous musical cultures, ensembles of anarchist windiness and startling precision. In their theatricality, eclecticism, sardonic humor, and whispers of Weill and Eisler, Breuker’s recordings call to mind Carla Bley’s Escalator on the Hill; on a more general level, an obvious analogy can be drawn to Charles Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But what distinguishes Breuker is his use of devices that are determinedly and relevantly European.” –Gary Giddins

The title track reminds me a bit of that Braxton big band pastiche we posted a while back. This piece feels more of a comment on music than an expression of music. And I don’t mean that in a bad way.
Chilly: So it’s like an essay that jumps, jives, and wails? Maybe so. Oddly enough, it’s actually more engaging and vigorous than some of the forms it’s “critiquing.” A rare achievement.

“The symphony should be like the world; it must contain everything.” –William Breuker (or maybe Mahler, same difference)

This music is a great melange, but the emotional content isn’t always there for me.
Chilly: The emotions seem to be more about instantaneous thrills, like a good roller coaster ride, than heat-rending lyricism or spiritual uplift. An entire album of this could be exhausting, but a handful of tunes really get me going.
Drew: Sure. I mean, we need rollercoasters and houses of worship. It’s a big world out there.

“The subject matter of Breuker’s musical theater is Europe’s bourgeois culture. He presents pageants, one piece always segueing into the next, of juxtapositions, exaggerations, perversions, pastiches of styles; the music is compulsively busy at a uniform volume level, to the pounding of fast, preferably two-beat rhythms. Tawdry, neurotic Valkyries ride in Breuker’s Europe; lunatic Gypsies dance a neoboogie; a Rachmaninoff concerto slides into stride piano; fearful peasants dance in the middle of a funeral march; an oberek is contorted into a medieval dance…” –John Litweiler

“‘What?’ comes about as close as possible to duplicating ‘Take the A Train’ without ever quite getting there — a bravura demonstration indeed. ‘Driebergen-Zeist’ sounds like some otherworldly melding of Ellington, Gershwin, and Carl Stalling as themes collide, disappear, and arise from nowhere, each more gorgeous than the last, and are undermined by false starts, fake endings, and composed ‘mistakes.'” –All Music Guide

I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The Kollektief performing
Or just after.

This album also includes “No Wave Samba,” a song with a title so mind-bogglingly wonderful that it can’t possibly live up to it.

Another Dutch group that mixes improv, different forms of music, and freely engages jazz players from Europe – punk anarchist squat legends the Ex. Who we ostensibly mention on account of the Netherlandish connection but really just because we dig them so much. Holland rocks!

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