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Guus Janssen/Han Bennink: Groet

When listening to Dutch free jazz, I often-and by often, I mean almost always-get the feeling that the musicians aren’t playing jazz so much as they’re making fun of themselves playing jazz-as if the idea of Europeans playing a music essentially invented by African-Americans is so unutterably absurd, they have no choice but to do it with their tongues in their cheeks. On the nine tracks that comprise Groet, the piano-and-drums duo of Guus Janssen and Han Bennink exhibit some of that self-mocking, yet the brilliance of their musicianship mostly carries the day.

Janssen combines bebop chops with an outcat’s inclination to turn convention on its ear. On “Hem,” for example, he fixates on a boogie-woogie bass line and runs it through the wringer, twisting the harmony and rhythm-and indeed, the concept of boogie-woogie itself-into all sorts of weird and wild shapes. Janssen might be on the outside looking in, but he’s making some salient commentary. Bennink is fast on the draw, countering and supporting, turning on a dime right alongside the pianist. There’s the requisite irony, but for the most part, Janssen and Bennink maintain a seriousness of intent that does justice to their considerable abilities.

Originally Published