While making intriguing recordings with his eBraam/Wurli Trio and Hybrid 10tet, pianist/composer/arranger Michiel Braam continued to lead his longstanding Bik Bent Braam until drawing the curtain on the acclaimed big band in early 2012. The spirit of Bik Bent Braam can still be heard, however, in Lucebert, an ambitious 2013 release by Flex Bent Braam, a septet featuring Bik Bent Braam members as well as newcomers. True to form, Braam and company explore freely and swing madly through a set of meta-jazz with more conceptual angles than an Escher staircase. The album is inspired by Dutch painter, poet, and jazz lover Lucebert, who, as the liner notes relate, once provided literary commentary via a telegram comprising only a list of jazz standards. Braam penned new arrangements for those standards, which alternate with eight of his original compositions across the album's 16-track, nearly 80-minute sprawl.
Flex Bent Braam take Mingus' "Better Git It in Your Soul" in five, with drummer Joost Lijbaart emphasizing the odd meter; the throwback mix places him realistically in the sound field vis-à-vis the other bandmembers, providing a classic '50s/'60s balance. And Wolter Wierbos' growling, testifying, plunger-muted trombone more than matches the original's raucous gospel spirit. Elsewhere, Braam approaches the standards with everything from a fairly straight read to an inspired mash-up to a radical revision. In Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," baritone saxophonist Bart van der Putten is seemingly the only musician maintaining a tenuous relationship with the melody as Lijbaart clanks and the other bandmembers attack their instruments in a pounding, irregular unison pulse. The ensemble theme to Miles' modal landmark "So What" serves as a structurally skewed introduction to the reharmonized Henry Sullivan chestnut "I May Be Wrong" -- with van der Putten venturing far afield from where the comparably restrained Gerry Mulligan took the tune. A fragmented melody line in Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" creates a sort of layered staccato call and response for horns and reeds wholly unlike the famous Dizzy and Bird version, while pumped-up intensity is the most significant change brought to George Russell's "The Stratus Seekers."
The standards contextualize Braam's originals (inspired by Lucebert Japanese epigrams), which seemingly marry Russell's "tonal organization" to Mingus' earthy modernity and the anything-goes spirit of Dutch jazz. "Spijt -- Rue" features Tony Overwater's rich arco bass in a classicist brass and winds arrangement; "Drift -- Urge" finds Braam's fingers racing across the keys in post-Cecil Taylor abandon against the bandmembers' backdrop of bursts, smears, and cacophony; the pianist comps magnificently beneath killer solo features for trumpeter Angelo Verploegen and alto saxophonist Bart van der Putten on the grooving highlight "Zorg -- Care." The comparatively spare textures and walking tempo of closer "Herfst -- Fall" provide a perfect atmospherically cool finale. There's no better place than Lucebert to hear Michiel Braam building on tradition and breaking new ground in the vanguard of 21st century jazz.