Frank Van Bommel

Crutch for the Crab

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The debut album of Dutch pianist Frank Van Bommel and his quartet is a thinly veiled tribute to late piano legend Dick Twardzik. The set is divided almost evenly into Van Bommel's compositions and those of the little-known but highly regarded Twardzik, who died in his 20s and is best-known as a cohort of Chet Baker and Art Pepper -- which tells you something about the way he lived. Van Bommel is primarily a post-bop/hard bop composer firmly rooted in the blues. His method is equal part Twardzik (harmony), Herbie Nichols (rhythm), and Bill Evans (melodic invention). Which means simply that, as pleasant as he is to listen to and how effortlessly his tunes come off, there is little in them to get or hold one's attention. There are moments when you feel as if you are hearing someone else, some strange lighter-weight version of Sonny Clark or Freddie Redd trying to play Evans' fake book. As for the interpretations of Twardzik's highly complex works such as "Yellow Tango," the title track, and "Fable of Mabel," along with "Girl From Greenland" and "Albuquerque Social Swim," the quartet does a better job, though it's Van Bommel who stilts the proceedings here, too. Tobias Delius is a fiercely original tenor player whose command of his instrument and the various jazz eras is faultless. He is an inventive and soulful improviser who errs if anywhere on the side of melody rather than counterpoint or harmony. Arjen Gorter is one of Europe's finest if lesser-known bassists, and Martin Van Duynhoven is right from the Connie Kay school of drumming and can play virtually anything. Twardzik's complex rhythmic and harmonic patterns can be daunting for any pianist, but for Van Bommel to attempt them he must have thought he could bring something to them. But he does not -- just a lagging sense of rhythm and an outdated and stuffy sense of improvisation that's more reverent than representative.

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