Can they mean us? A Dutch view of British jazz

Sebastian writes:

Thank you to a Dutch friend for drawing our attention to a review of Kairos 4tet’s recent CD Everything We Hold (Naim) in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant.

The whole review in Dutch is here – it may be paywall-protected. These are the two opening paragraphs – (our translation). See comment below.

“Britain has been booming in the jazz universe for a while now. Salient fact: what has led it has been shameless flirting with pop music and other genres. Nothing is wrong with that in itself. Improvised music which stays within its boundaries doesn’t go anywhere. But stepping beyond the limits, does not ‘per se’ lead to open, independent music.

With Jamie Cullum seemingly the leader of the pack in recent years, bands such as Neil Cowley Trio (pop-rock), Portico Quartet (pop-minimal) have also been hovering, and also Kairos 4tet, now releasing its third album…..”

COMMENT: The music (WE’VE ALREADY REVIEWED) didn’t grab the reviewer at all – the rest of the review is pretty grumpy. However, what I find more interesting about the piece is how British jazz gets pigeon-holed and reduced to a few simple ciphers, evidently based on the small selection of bands which make it across the Straat von Dover and to reach Holland regularly.

By contrast, from this side of the water, and after every newsletter I send out, all I can see is that the variety and depth of the scene here are unencompassable .

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised: the designer of the poster above must have felt that exciting events which might happen on the sea journey would be the main appeal of England and Scotland to the Dutch – rather than our bleak destination itself.

The observation I most often hear in Europe is that the UK jazz  scene is “apart”, “self-contained”, in contrast with other scenes in Europe which get more exposure. Having said that, I always sense that there is genuine curiosity to be exposed to more of what we have.

Nobody is ever going to like all the jazz he or she hears, but Spranger’s generalizations about the revival in this country would seem, as the Dutch would say, to be ‘totaal mislukt’. I am sure he will be given good cause to re-consider….

Categories: miscellaneous

16 replies »

  1. I suppose we're all guilty of national stereotyping when it comes to jazz. If I think of Dutch jazz I think of Han Bennink playing the drums with his feet, and other slapstick stuff. But I am sure there are Dutch bands who eschew humour and free playing in favour of deep and serious sensitivity along with tasteful harmony. And, of course I would never expose my simplistic views in print on the internet… Oh damn, I just have…

  2. Interesting observation. Only I do think that there are two thing mixed up here. The objective and subjective sides of the story.
    I can't speak -being Dutch- for the subjective thoughts of mister Spranger. But I can comment on the -more or less- objective side of the story. To be honest, I think that the core of Spranger's point is a thing that is a general feeling about Jazz in the UK. And that is that the British could be roughly divided into two sections. One is the more pop oriented and another is the more 'artistic' form.

    The most well known pop oriented form we know from the UK is -indeed- Jamie Cullum. This music is very open en comes over as being very easy accessible.

    The more artistic form is very, VERY closed. It's difficult to get into the scene. For example, our other side neighbours (the Germans) are more open and more easy accessible then our British neighbours. Besides this I think the British are more focused on old school Jazz (“you've got to know your Coltrane”) than the Dutch. (I recently had a nice discussion on Twitter about this with a UK based musician)

    I'm a musician too, I now have great contacts and found great places to share my music. For example the Vortex is very nice and accessible. But it took me some time to find those people.
    A lot of replies me and my Dutch colleagues get (if we get any at all) are always focused on the amount of crowd we will attracted followed by a negative outcome to our offer.

    I'm pointing this out because this generates a stereotype (they like your music if you're A) from the USA and play Bebop, or B) play pop like jazz that attracts a bigger crowd) that not only feeds Dutch musicians' thoughts but also people around those musicians.

    But as said before, it's a stereotype. My first concerts in the UK where also very hard (so I've told my Dutch colleagues: “great tour but pfiew, the UK was a hard match”). But when I've started to know the right people and the right venues it started to change a lot. (I actually love to come to the UK!!!)
    And I'm very interested in what happens inside of the UK (thanks to this blog for example)

    So the point that I'm trying to make here is this: it really depends on a person to person basis and because I've kept working on it I know love the UK scene and I understand it more 🙂

    Keep up the good work Sebastian!

    Warm greetings from Holland,


  3. My issue would be with the writing…”salient fact”….”what has led it” etc etc… Nowhere is there any indication that this is one person's view of this music. Seems intended to provoke a response, which I have rather tragically just provided…

  4. To begin: before giving firm judgements (as a writer/journalist) normally you have to be informed and primary experience (see bands playing live in different contexts). Next: to use J. Cullum as entering stepping stone in this way, says enough about scope of the author’s view. To make it easier, more accessible for the reader does not necessarily mean you have to operate on kindergarten level on the basis of the most worn out cliché. As it is with cliché: it shows as much of the viewer himself as on the subject – or even more about the viewer himself and the discourse he is operating in.

    Cliché is everywhere, cliché is something we live by AND cliché is a magnificent challenge to deal with all the time playfully, laid back or aggressively. Does the Dutch text do anything of this? In joyous, informative, interesting, challenging way?

    Today’s manifold regional variants of rhythmical music including those inspired or driven by jazz-tradition and jazz-spirit have distinctive features shaped by cultural, economical etc. influences. To figure out what this is and how it works, is a good thing in especially an European perspective. To understand the other always leads to a different and maybe better understanding of yourself! It will be inspiring and bring you to new frontiers. Music has a real place to be experienced in! And that is what writing about music should bring about.

  5. As a Dutchman I have to say that it is quite a generalization to say that this is “Dutch view of British Jazz”. It is one person's opinion and I think the reviewer is missing the point when it comes to Kairos, who to my ears are riskier and driven a lot more by the spirit of improvisation and jazz than some others mentioned. By the way, to balance, Kairos have also been getting some very positive reviews over here:


    To me the exciting thing about the UK scene is its diversity (eg i enjoy Evan Parker, Troyka, John Taylor, Sons of Kemet) and hope the less well known acts start to get a bit better exposure in Holland so it is harder for writers to be lazy and put artists in national categories/stereotypes.

  6. Personal view: wonderful! But as Liam Noble already pointed out: there is no clearly discernible personal view worked out in the text! It seems more uninformed p**r writing … It's better to exchange about and discuss the real thing!

  7. Mike Walker writes:

    My Uncle Earp, who insisted he was related to Wyatt,
    was fond of imparting lesser known aphorisms to us
    on our visits to him in Strangeways.

    One such, if my memory is correct, was,
    'If it walks like a Duck, check for zips before you
    make those Duck bonding quack noises'.
    He was such a practical guy.

  8. Jamie, Portico, Neil Cowley, Get the Blessing, Arun Gosh, Sons of Kemet and a few more– these are the bands that the powers Jazzwise, Serious, Riot & Elastic Artists are getting behind and pushing around the world, so this is mainly what the rest of the world is seeing from the UK. These bands– as far as these ears are concerned- are not interested in improvisation as a central theme to their music. I'm not taking anything away from them as musicians and am not saying bad about their music, I'm just stating a fact– they don't really improvise, and some not at all. A few more, like Phroenesis, Karios, which are getting pushed hard do focus a little more on improv, but the vast wealth of real, cutting-edge improvised jazz music in this country does not get the push that it deserves overseas, even though this underground scene I believe contains the real talent of UK 'jazz'. I see nothing wrong, therefore, with this reviewer's assessment. The question I have, is why are bands that don't really improvise get promoted so hard by the powers that be in the UK as the cutting edge 'jazz' coming out of Britain? Is it they need to 'dumb' down the music (get rid of improv) in order to try and get new audiences? Or simply is it that the powers that be themselves just don't like improvisation and instead like to promote bands that more resemble pop or pop instrumental rock? Perhaps these sell better and therefore that's the reason. Whatever it is, there's no escaping that this is the current trend by the UK jazz promotion engine and therefore as long as they continue this, this will be how other listeners around the world view 'uk jazz.'

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