Rock bands and orchestras -- here's a worrisome cliché usually signaling the beginning of the end for a group of musicians getting too full of themselves or already on the nostalgia bandwagon. Of course, none of that applies here, for two main reasons. The first one is the Ex -- not your run-of-the-mill punk band, this Dutch institution has always been keen on collaborating with wide-ranging artists. The second reason is the orchestra convened here: 20 of Amsterdam's finest and most daring experimental musicians, from Palinckx's singer Han Buhrs to members of the ICP Orchestra (and of course all then-current members of the Ex, including Luc Ex). This ambitious -- but not over the top ambitious -- project came to life at the request of the Holland Festival in 2000. Recorded live in Holland, Belgium, and Germany over four consecutive nights, Een Rondje Holland ("A Dutch Trip") features 12 pieces that share affinities with the Ex's regular repertoire while moving much deeper into experimentation. Half of the tracks are genuine rock songs intelligently arranged, using the orchestra in unorthodox ways, exploiting the possibilities offered, for instance, by the presence of three drums, three bassists, and five singers (the Ex's G.W. Sok and Katrin, plus Han Buhrs, Jan Mulder, and Braaxtaal's Jaap Blonk). The other half consist of instrumental pieces, more or less improvised, erasing the distinction between rock band and orchestra. Highlights are numerous and range from the more "typical" songs "Kokend Asfalt" and "My Happiness" to an interpretation of Alexander Mossolov's "Symfonie Voor Machines." Obviously, Een Rondje Holland is not for every Ex fan, but those fond of the group's previous collaborations with Buhrs, Han Bennink, or Tom Cora will probably find it at least interesting. On the other hand, followers of the Dutch avant-garde scene who are usually put off by the Ex's punk rock but enjoy the ICP Orchestra, Splinks, or even Palinckx should definitely give this album a try.
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