Sean Bergin

Live at the BIMhuis

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The Dutch big band scene is perhaps the most vital in the entire world. With musicians playing in several orchestras at once sometimes, and the identity of an ensemble directly related to the musical personality/virtuosity of the bandleader; it's been a wondrous thing to observe and to reap the rewards from as a listener. Catching Sean Bergin's M.O.B. in a venue as prestigious as the Bimhuis is its own payoff. This record was made the way all live records should be: without adornment, live, raw, and direct. Whatever small technical shortcomings there might be -- and they are infinitesimal -- are quickly overshadowed by the power of the performance. Unlike many of the Dutch big bands, Bergin's group is not as concerned with demonstrating how well they know either the jazz tradition or the new European school of composition/improvisation. Perhaps this is because Bergin is a transplant from South Africa. Featuring such stellar musicians as Wolter Wierbos on trombone, the criminally overlooked Franky Douglas on guitar, Tobias Delius on tenor and clarinet, Bergin himself on soprano, tenor, clarinet, and, thankfully on concertina, the 16-piece band is rounded out by no less than six different vocalists who appear at different times in the program. This band takes as their mettle Bergin's ambitiously good-humored brand of Euro-jazz and the systematic deconstruction of formal European classicism. The set opens with a wildly irreverent read of the Yip Harburg-Burton Lang composition "Old Devil Moon," with the brass section colliding in the middle eight with the reeds. Douglas pierces through the mix with a series of single string fills and a series of angular chords that would do Tal Farlow proud if they didn't approach the ground Marc Ribot walks on everyday. This is balanced by "Gadnoz," an operatic cartoon in which a chorus of female vocalists takes on the lone male baritone amid a squall of orchestral colors that shift both pitch and meter every few bars. It's dizzying. The final two items on the program show off Stan Kenton's considerable influence on Bergin. Both "Calypso Kamasutra" and "House Wine" reveal the contrasting palette Bergin employs, allowing colors to blend until they are shades and shapes. In the latter, the original cavernous stomp of the band is tempered with J.C. Tans Ben Webster-ish tenor solo. In the former the soloists, who are playing strictly on the free jazz side of the world, are carried over into a loopy post-bop swing through counterpoint. This is a deeply satisfying record to listen to; it offers the listener a chance to smile -- and then laugh out loud -- while being caught up in the intensely creative spirit of one of Amsterdam's finest big bands.

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