A trumpet player in lederhosen stands center stage doing a note-perfect impression of Miles Davis. Gradually a trio of crouching saxophonists gathers, surrounding him, their screeching horns ripping into his fragile lines like Dobermans. The trumpeter, flustered but patient, waits until the braying subsides, then resumes his wistful solo.
A bearded man takes a toy saxophone from its packing carton while listening to another saxophonist playing a Kenny G-like solo. He reads the toy’s instructions then begins to play, imitating the soloist but frustrated by his instrument’s cheesy sound. Finally someone hands him a real sax and he erupts into a solo of overpowering split tones.
These moments, scenes from performances by the Dutch Willem Breuker Kollektief, bring to mind Sun Ra’s Arkestra in a Fletcher Henderson revival mood–with walk-ons by Cecil Taylor and the Flying Karamazov Brothers. The group, which debuted here in 1985 and returned once in 1991, brings its stunning combination of sound and theatricality back to Chicago this weekend in a concert sponsored by the nomadic Southend Musicworks.
Led by the 49-year-old Breuker, an expressive genius equipped with extended technique on all the reeds, the 11-member Kollectief just may be the “Dutch Olympic team of music” that Southend’s Leo Krumpholz says they are. Their penchant for borrowing from musical forms high, low, and in between and the related urge to fuse entertainment with art, while characteristic of the contemporary school of Dutch composers and improvisers, produce a force and immediacy that transcend similar efforts. No other group matches their unique blend of mad tangents, pulsating swing, subversive humor, and aesthetic of surprise.
Some critics liken Breuker’s big band to American models. The eclectic repertoire recalls Carla Bley, who once arranged a medley of national anthems for jazz ensemble. One hears Charles Mingus in the shifts of meter and tempo, Frank Zappa in the crackling “look ma, no hands” virtuosity, the dentist-drill wit. And Spike Jones in the classical pieces mangled by musical raspberries.
Since its inception in 1974 the ensemble has adapted and rearranged folk, popular, and classical European sources, from Kurt Weill songs and Ennio Morricone compositions for spaghetti westerns to Erik Satie’s Parade, which calls for a siren, a pistol, and a typewriter. Originals incorporate tangos, funeral marches, Highland reels, circus music, whatever catches Breuker’s ear. Toby Rix, Holland’s beloved “singing cowboy” and novelty-hit maker, recently joined Breuker to record a movement from Haydn’s trumpet concerto interpreted on chromatically tuned car horns.
Breuker himself has recorded with Anthony Braxton and the cream of Europe’s free jazz crop, and at the core of the Kollektief’s sound is one of the world’s most oddly original jazz sensibilities, with improvisation often its organizing principle. If John Zorn, the American composer who specializes in juxtaposing incongruous musical styles, resembles a channel surfer in his restless approach, Breuker is a channel Sufi, treating his borrowed material with lingering care. His Kollektief develops its styles generously, producing connective arrangements, precise section work, and boiling-over solos that glue everything together.
The Kollektief has made some 20 recordings, mostly on the Dutch BVHaast label, but the band is especially noted for its spectacular live shows. The current American tour nearly missed Chicago, though not, according to a recent ad, Rochester, New York; Eugene, Oregon; or Morrisville, Vermont. Fortunately, however, Southend Musicworks is presenting the Dutch ensemble here after all. They appear Saturday, April 10, at 9 and 11 at Deja Vu, 2624 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $10; call 871-0205 after 2 PM for more info.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Meredith.