Guus Janssen/Han Bennink


Dunno about the reader, but when I think about the concept of a piano and drums duo the names that immediately come to my mind are those of Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink: a unique musical relationship - and nowadays, also a good example of a living, breathing tradition - that created the frame inside which their identities have developed. So in a way it's funny for me to listen to Bennink playing against another piano player - here I'll have to mention at least his past encounters with Steve Beresford (Directly To Pyjamas, 1987) and Cecil Taylor (Spots, Circles And Fantasy, 1989). Having in front of me a duo CD of Bennink with Guus Janssen made me really curious.

I believe I first heard Janssen's piano in the early eighties, on an album by the Maarten Altena Octet. Since then, of course, he's became a protagonist of the Dutch music scene under various guises, be it solo or group, composed or improvised. Of course, Janssen is a very different player from Mengelberg, so half the fun is listening to Bennink's Art Blakey - who we usually hear playing against Mengelberg's Monk - having to complement Janssen's... (Tristano? Tatum?). A clear, staccato touch that uses both hands, motivic variations and a quite distinctive quoting/referencing aesthetic to perfection. So we have surprises aplenty - check the boogie-woogie that starts Pethem, to which Bennink reacts with the by now expected enthusiasm - and the way the tune ends; almost the same could be said of the almost-ragtime which starts Groet - Bennink on brushes.

The recording is crystal clear - like having both musicians playing in one's living room; one can really hear Bennink briefly leaving his drum stool to hit some surface in the club (which is the BIMhuis, by the way, on November 29, 2004); kudos to engineer/producer Dick Lukas.

So we can really enjoy the "walking bass part" on Winkel (it would have made Mingus proud); the "trill dialogue" starting at about 3'30" in Hem; the jazz conversation in Medemeleke - a track where the appearance of Anthony Braxton in his "in the tradition" mode wouldn't have sounded out of place. The nice points are too many to mention here, but I'll also say of the "almost-but-not-quite" nod in the general direction of Functional/Monk in Ziepe; and of the Mengelberg-penned Peer's Counting Song.

Intelligent, funny and not at all difficult to listen too, at 43' Groet is also an album of perfect length.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | March 15, 2005