Albert van Veenendaal
Minimal Damage

(Evil Rabbit Records)

An assured, multi-style approach; highly developed instrumental skills; great variety of line-ups; and an exuberant productivity are some of the features of the music by pianist and composer Albert van Veenendaal. Which, in a way, is something to be expected, given the fact that van Veenendaal is a Dutch fifty-something.

Among the titles in his discography that I liked the most (only talking about the tiny slice of van Veenendaal's releases that I happened to listen to, obviously, as it's to be expected when one's output is so large) two that I frequently return to were recorded by various line-ups: released a few years ago, one - quite bizarre - goes under the name President Of The Globe; while the other - a very fine album titled Midday Moon, released last year - features a quartet.

Then there are the titles released on Evil Rabbit Records, the label van Veenendaal established in 2006 together with double bass player Meinrad Kneer to offer a better documentation of his work. Here I have to say that, though I like quite a few of the albums he has released on that label featuring his own work, no title has struck me as being really excellent, the opposite being true of Minimal Damage.

One trait that I think is really special in van Veenendaal's work is his regular use of the prepared piano; an instrument that, as per this album's subtitle - Miniatures For Prepared Piano - is the only character here.

Many styles, of course, some of them being now just a memory: listen to the version of the Mingus-penned Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, which at first I recognized only because its title appears on the CD. There's also a long history to the act of preparing the piano, as demonstrated by the only track recorded way back in 2007: featuring a dark, menacing theme, Dark Days & The Moon is immediately recognizable as a prepared piano, buzzes and all.

All the other tracks featured on this album make use, in different ways, of overdubbing, and a "modern"-sounding mix rich with echo and reverb. Hence, timbre and notes which equally contribute to the final result.

Here I think van Veenendaal has looked in the general direction of minimalism; better said (a few minimalist traits appearing here and there anyway), he has looked in the general direction of those "oriental" strains of music that were such important an influence for the first practitioners of minimalism. Hence, we can hear metals, marimbas, and assorted percussion (but it's always a piano we listen to), playing melodies that can often sound "ethnic". Sporting a great control in both the playing and composing dept., the work easily avoids the danger of sounding "watered-down". This is an album of substance which also sounds surprisingly accessible (I think!).

First track The Spy & The Vampire (the only long track here, together with the title-track), has a "literal" development: left-hand ostinato, right-hand chords, a melodic, "film noir" theme, a new "picture for marimba" appearing at 1' 40", a "horror" splice (with sampled voices?) from 2' 40" to 3' 40", variations, theme.

Percussive, lively, Tear Dance is a good example of the "layered" approach often featured on the album. Frog Dance sports a carillon and an arpeggiated melody. Mechanic Mushroom sounds quite "ethnic-minimalist", percussive, with a fine, simple melodic theme. Pirouetteke almost sounds as if programmed on a sequencer, with circular arpeggios, nested odd-meters, and nice volume dynamics (also a pinch of ragtime?). Marimba and percussion are back for Daily Values, while Sea Monkeys features wood and metal percussion, with heavily reverberated single strokes.

Minimal Damage could maybe be files under "acoustic funk", with distant echoes of Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, a "pigmy dance" for percussion and flutes. The slow, melodic, Old Frogs and Histoire Pneumatique both feature the "marimba". Whales features "whale sounds" and a lot of work on the piano strings. Transition (in its own way, quite jazzy), Zen Gardening, and Slow Boat are the fine close for a work of perfect length: 41' 19".

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2010 | Nov. 16, 2010