The idea of reviewing a collection of soundtracks to the films of one of Europe's most adventurous directors is, in fact, a daunting task. In part it's because, not having viewed all the films referenced here, it's difficult to make a call on whether the music stands up as soundtrack music for these particular films. The other difficulty is in tracking the musical development of Willem Breuker himself. This two-disc set is as much about his development as a composer and bandleader as his ability to create musical atmospherics for film. And given that it covers literally 30 years (despite the cover, there are pieces here notated as being recorded in late 1996 and early 1997) in the creative lives of both Breuker and Johan Van Der Keuken, each track carries significant weight.
The settings Breuker employs in his soundtrack work vary considerably from his work with his own band, the Kollektief. Many members of the group, past, present, and future, play on these sides, but the settings vary. For instance, Breuker may employ a duet for some cues, such as the then music from The Way South, which is no more than Breuker's bass clarinet playing against Arjen Gorter's bass. Similarly, the music for Reisefieber has Breuker's alto pushed and prodded by Gorter again. At times, the entire Kollektief is featured, though the scoring is somewhat more structured. The soundtrack from 1967's Animal Locomotion is an example. Improvisation plays a role but only within the strict confines of the piece's two polar opposites: cartoon freneticism and a funereal, nearly classical dirge. Han Bennink's drumming is actually the sole motivation for keeping the piece a soundtrack -- you can hear the players straining to break loose, yet he reins them in. Besides Bennink, other well-known improvisers and jazzers make appearances over the years: pianist Leo Cuypers, pianist -- and now very famous composer in his own right -- Louis Andriessen, and the legendary saxophonist John Tchicai. The Kollektief remains the backbone of all the music here, broken down into groups with Breuker ever at the center. The most successful work here is at the end of disc one in the score for The Palestinians from 1975 (the beginning of the Intifada). It is comprised of two works, a quartet titled "Taibe Duet." It features Breuker and Bob Driessen on altos and Louis Andriessen and Rob Verdurmen on drums, respectively. What begins as a meditative, even speculative, melodic idea, gives way to first a song, and then a larger ensemble playing "The PLO March." The melody gives way to a percussive, stridently military parade song. If the film weren't made for such a solemn occasion, it would be hilarious to hear Andriessen playing piano in this manner. Also notable is a gorgeous ballad called "For You...Woman...Spanish Song," written for the film A Film for Lucebert. It's ballad-like in that its architecture is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's as he left his Atlantic period for deeper, uncharted waters. It swings gently because of Bennink's in-the-crease playing cascaded over by the interplay of Breuker on tenor and Gilius Van Bergeijk's oboe. The second disc is easier to map, as there is Breuker's obsession with ragtime in the opening theme to the film The Master and the Giant. He travels from playing fairly straight rag (with a nod and a wink, of course) to evoking Albert Ayler in two pieces named after him, and then slips his way back in time to rag and early New Orleans music again to complete the cycle. The most humorous material here is "I Love Dollars," a two-part suite. It's a duet between Breuker and Henk DeJonge -- a pianist who also employs the use of a synthesizer. Beginning so matter of factly, it careens its way through tempo and mode changes before entering into a stream of dialogue that allows them to find their way back to the theme. In all, this set is more than a confounding curiosity. It's pleasant to listen to and study for evidence of Breuker's continuing flow of new ideas about composition and arrangement. That said, it is hard to hear a few of these pieces as music that stands apart from the cinematic medium it was contextualized for. But it's a minimal complaint. Most of the material on these two discs belongs in any Breuker collection.