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Chris Abelen Quintet: What a Romance

One of the unalloyed joys of contemporary Dutch jazz is the way its musicians take such delight in contextualized chaos. To the scene’s finest musicians, improvisation isn’t merely a set of prescribed tactics and patterns for dealing with specific chord changes, but an eagerness to spontaneously make something out of a fleeting set of circumstances. The members of trombonist Chris Abelen’s quintet know their scales, but they can also navigate unfamiliar surroundings. While the music on his second album, What a Romance, isn’t as unwieldy as that produced by his Dutch precursors like Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker-with whom Abelen worked in the mid-’80s-it’s not unusual to pick out five different yet simultaneous trains of thought here and there. That’s a good thing.

Bassist Wilbert de Joode, drummer Charles Huffstadt, electric guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen and tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius work with Abelen like a dance troupe torn between emulating the Rockettes and liberating themselves with modern choreography, but without ever seeming lost between the two. Attacking the leader’s memorable, hooky compositions, the quintet works wonderfully together, playing multi-faceted arrangements to superb cumulative effect, but then they’re off; van Binsbergen exploits her effects-heavy sound to lay down a wide variety of textural gambits, while the rhythm section co-exists on different ends of the same polymetric plane. Delius plays with a balled-up muscularity, exhibiting the same kind of power and bittersweet lyricism as primo Archie Shepp, while the leader comes across as the most mild-mannered of the whole bunch, happily playing the straight-man at this free bop dada jam. While this approach would simply sound unfocused with loads of other players, with Abelen and company it bristles with excitement.

Originally Published