Bik Bent Braam

Het XIJZ der Bik Bent Braam ("Bik Bent Braam's XYZ")

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Dutch jazz composer Michiel Braam has kept his "bik bent" (big band) afloat for more than 15 years, using an ever-changing lineup of the finest players in the Dutch jazz world (here including Wilbert de Joode and Walter Wierbos). Braam has an unusual compositional language for his large band; his only relatives are Anthony Braxton and Boston's Mark Harvey. Having used this as his chosen form of expression in the big-band context for such a long time, and on each recording, offering fragments of its articulation, on XYZ Braam has done the unthinkable -- with help from Dutch radio -- and recorded all of his "speaking voices" on a double-CD set, all offered as manifestations of the 26 letters of the alphabet. What is glorious about this opportunity is that Braam not only is allowed to exercise his compositional chops in a systematic way, but also given the manner of this organization, he is allowed to reveal all of his sources of inspiration with equal clarity. Over two CDs Braam's bik bent offers us glimpses of Ellington, Waller, Tristano, Beethoven, Wagner, Monk, Basie, Mingus, Kenton, Biederbecke, and so on, filtered through his creative imagination and usage. Ellington's ghost is evoked in full on "Duel" as a way of making sense of Dutch beerhall music. First the crap and then the art is how it comes out, with the oompah-oompah giving way to a searing blues which features the two trumpets dueling for domination of the idiom in their solos. Elsewhere on "Onderkant" amid the loose swing and interwoven bop construct, de Joode and Patric Votrian on bass tuba lock horns for a series of eight note solos! Perhaps no piece is more telling than "Tristano," whose source is obvious. Here saxophonist Frank Nielander and Braam himself offer the complex workings of bop harmony and counterpoint as a framework to showcase the vanguard lyricism developed by Mingus in the '60s on a model Tristano himself composed in the '50s! Agility is the word best used for Braam's musical tongues, they shift, spit, and sprint into one another on a dime's turn and careen joyously without regard for the limits of any one tradition while celebrating and respecting them all. Of the Europeans, only Franz Koglmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, and Misha Mengelberg are capable of composing for large ensembles with such versatility and elegance.

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