13 Ways of Looking at Willem Breuker

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


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!

Category Willem Breuker

15 Responses to 13 Ways of Looking at Willem Breuker

  1. i’ve heard lot of breuker, but missed this one. it’s some of the best! great choice, D:O. i’d also recommend ‘live in berlin’ as another excellent platter but earlier, i think. you have it?

    and maybe you’re being a little bit hard on willem – i could listen to his music for hours!

  2. Not very Breuker-relevant, but The Ex are currently touring the USA (please see link to DJ Rupture’s website for more info). Also, in my opinion, Han Bennink would trump Breuker’s position (per the All Music Guide writer) as being the most prolific, influential, etc. Dutch musician.
    (I’m not ati-Breuker; I saw the Kollektief in New York in the 80s and enjoed it.)

  3. Yeah, this one and In Holland (and I guess the self-titled American release on About Time) are WBK at their high point, imho.

    A little story–I was working at Environ when the Kollektief made their first US appearance, I think in December of ’78. At the time I was a bit soured on Euro-Improv (gung-ho in the AACM) and my only association with the name “Breuker” was alongside those of some musicians I wasn’t very keen on (mistakently, as it turned out, in large part). So when I saw we’d booked them for three consecutive nights, I thought, “Jeez, three shows of aimless noodling in a row. Snore…” Well, they came on, ten strong (with the band that included Leo Cuypers, Jan Strom and Willem van Manen) and, before a crowd of about 25 that included Robert Palmer, tore the roof off the place, basically playing the set that appears on another fine disc, “The European Scene” (from ’75, originally on BASF, I think). Incredible show.

    Palmer writes up a rave for the NYT and the next night about 60 people show up. There’s a clear buzz in the air, numerous people having doubtless been dragged there by delerious friends. Lights go down and ten Dutchmen stumble, confused and drunken-looking, into the playing area. They look at the instruments as though they have no idea as to their purpose, knock them over, pick them up, bang them on chairs, put heads inside French horn bells, blow the wrong way into trombones, etc. This goes on for 20 minutes. You can see the glares exchanged betwen fans and unwilling audience members like “What the fuck did you bring me to?! You said these guys were good!” Then, on an unseen cue from Breuker, they stop their messing around on a dime and launch into one of their patented fanfares. About 120 people showed up on the third night.

    I was a pretty big fan up until about the late 80s by which time, generally, their shtick had worn thin. Though prior to that, I saw a bunch of fine shows at places like the Public Theater and the old Knit that were still quite funny. They were a great band to bring frineds to see who were otherwise not into jazz. I think the last disc I picked up was Psalm 122 (Breuker doing a psalm setting?!?!?) that was pretty dreadful.

    But the classic band had some amazing players, really some of the best under-recognized musicians in jazz, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know if there have ever been two better trumpeters in a band than Raaymakers and Altenfelder. Marten van Norden was a monster tenor player before his involvement in the van accident that killed Harry Miller. And Arjen Gorter kills on bass.

    Just about everything up to ’85 is well worth hearing (both WBK and Breuker’s own side projects, including a lot of soundtrack work). After that, it gets spotty as they became kind of a repertoire band.

  4. AK – I agree. Few other Dutch musicians have as broad a scope as Bennik.

    And I think “the free jazz Spike Jonze” is alarmingly accurate, not to mention hilarious…!

  5. Brian! Thanks so much for generously sharing that story. It’s always nice when the “what the fuck did you bring me to?!” frown can be turned upside-down. Doesn’t always happen that way, of course.

  6. I saw them once a long time ago. They were all the time doing things like playing catch or putting plungers on their heads.

  7. Yikes, I said “Jan Strom” above; I meant “Jan Woolf”. I don’t think Mr. Strom was ever a member of WBK….

    I do remember that Woolf said that, sometime prior to their ’78 performance, they’d spent an entire tour playing nothing but Renaissance music.

    One other thing. The first few times I saw them, the sets were different each evening. When they played the Public Theatre in ’84 (sharing a bill with the Steve Lacy Sextet), it was for two nights and I went for both. I was a bit surprised, and disappointed, to see that they repeated the same set exactly, more like a theatrical performance than a concert. They were playing some of the material from “In Holland”, including the humorous number, “To Be with Louis P.” The first night, Breuker came out clad in a sleazy smoking jacket, acted the drunk, stumbling among the first few rows of the audience, rambling on, etc. Funny enough and apparently, within the context of the piece, winging it. But the second night, he went through *exactly* the same routine. It became apparent that they were basically doing the same thing your standard rock band does, ie, trotting out the exact same performance, night after night. A bit disconcerting, that.

    I began to think then, and still do, that Breuker would have been far better served if he, at some point, abandoned the Kollektief for a while and just played as a member of some larger group. For that matter, I was always surprised not to see people like Raaymakers, Altendorfer, Hunnekink, et al playing around more actively or leading their own projects (maybe they do but it’s confined to Holland, dunno). I guess it’s a relatively good paying gig, often subsidized by the Dutch art councils, but in the normal course of things, you’d think such outstanding musicians would be heard elsewhere.

  8. I presented the Breukers in the early 80’s at a small chapel on the Tufts U campus. The mania approach was something. At the time they had a sponsored tour from some Dutch art council called Theaterunie. I think Willems label BVHAAST also has releases by band members in smaller ensembles.

    I also presented the Globe Unity Orchestra later in the year and found them to be more musically engaging but less theatrical. The Globe unit at the time included Bob Stewart and George Lewis.

    Heiner Goebbals is another great music theater composer to look up and his out of print ECM release, Man in the Elevator is Heiner Mueller play with a lot of Airto Lindsay presence and some of Don Cherry’s last music woven through, highly reccommended.

  9. Thanks, Chris, for the recommendation, and for adding your remembrances to the mix. Read with interest this post at your blog: http://baystatements.blogspot.com/2006/12/horrors-of-70s-jazz.html.
    Sort of the flip side to the 70s and 80s boosterism that’s been going around.

  10. Chris, true there were a handful of releases on BVHaast and elsewhere with WBK personnel (the Raaymakers/Van Norden “Chicken Song”, for one, a couple of Henk de Jonge records; maybe more in recent years when I’ve stopped checking) and some went on to other things like van Manen’s Contraband (not so hot, imho) but I always wondered if there wasn’t some kind of moral or psychological contract involved. Gorter played around a bit but I’d’ve expected him to be on hundreds of sessions by now in the normal course of things. Same with the trumpeters. Like I said, maybe the living’s too good with Breuker for them to have the time or wherewithal to do much other stuff, but it just seems weird. (a little like Sun Ra personnel, perhaps).

    btw, anyoen know what, if anything, Leo Cuypers is up to these days?

  11. http://www.behearer.com/wiki/index.php/User_talk:Chris_Rich is a url from yesterday about the ‘Accessability Myth’ used by period A&R cretins to bludgeon the hapless artists. This music is my life essentially and the 70’s horror was mainly rooted in Baby boomer mediocrity and the major label rush to pander to it.

    Over the years I was able to do several productions with Ornette Coleman, Joseph Jarman and Jimmy Lyons in different settings in Boston, a grim racist city and was increasingly delighted to give the lie to this accessability model.

    I would watch the audiences and in some cases they were elderly people at their community art centers perfectly pleased with Leroy Jenkins or watching Serge Chaloffs ancient aunt absorbed by the Jimmy Lyons Quartet and how it recalled her youth with Schoenberg.

    The Ornette project was a composer commission Lewis Porter initiated for Tufts U when he was there with me as assistant.

    It combined the original quartet with Prime Time and drew nearly a thousand people to a grubby mob dump called the Channel because Tufts main performance space was unavailable. The Channel owners were delighted to have a huge crowd of older people spending lavishly on mixed drinks.

  12. » Willem Breuker, 1944-2010.RE-UP: 13 Ways of Looking @ WB destination: OUT

  13. Willem Breuker, 1944-2010.RE-UP: 13 Ways of Looking @ WB | MP3 Music at MixBurner

  14. » FMP #5: Rivers & Breuker destination: OUT

  15. » FMP #22: FMP…Superstars! destination: OUT