CD Review: Ben van Gelder – Reprise

Ben van Gelder – Reprise
(Pirouet Records PIT3074. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Reprise is the second recording by this quintet led by Dutchman Ben van Gelder, and their first on the German label Pirouet.

The primary voice is van Gelder’s airy, lyrical alto saxophone, but it is his compositions and the overall sound that capture the attention. The unison lines of the leader’s sax and the vibraphone of Peter Schlamb allow space for Sam Harris’ piano and sparingly-used synthesizer. Rick Rosato (seen in London earlier this year with Jonathan Kreisberg and Will Vinson) occupies the bass chair, and the impressive Craig Weinrib is on drums. All five are still under thirty.

Van Gelder is the composer of all but one of the tunes (R.E.L. is by Peter Schlamb). The music lacks the ferocious (and sometimes irritating) urgency of much contemporary jazz, but there is no shortage of energy. The entire CD benefits from a subtly determined sense of purpose, harnessed power, and clarity of reproduction. Crystalline and Without Haste are particularly well named. Only Yarnin’ (a duet for alto sax and drums) comes across as if it could have been freely improvised.

The core band is augmented here and there by big-name guests Mark Turner on tenor sax and Ben Street on bass. They acquit themselves well and Turner has a particularly fine solo on the title track, but van Gelder’s music needs no help – and ultimately gains little – from these high-profile Americans.

The greatly missed critic Richard Cook once observed that most CDs are too long. Reprise is not. Just three of the eleven tracks run over five minutes. Admirably, there is no fluff and no clutter, so it is ironic and frustrating that some of the melodies feel like sketches that have been curtailed. As it threatens to get going, Evocation simply disappears. But many other tunes are fully realised and wholly satisfying. All Rise (significantly or not, the longest track on the album) is magnificent. It would be interesting to know how these pieces were developed during the quintet’s recent tour of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

I saw van Gelder for the first time in 2004, at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague. Then he was only 15 years old; already a fine musician, but in need of experience. A move to New York and study with Lee Konitz and Mark Turner changed all that, and during the last few years he has gigged extensively in the USA and Europe. On the evidence of Reprise, Ben van Gelder now has an imaginative tone, a distilled improvising style and a distinctive approach to composition. Repeated listening increases one’s desire to hear more of his excellent group.

Categories: miscellaneous

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