Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet – Bluebeard
(Challenge Records CR73466. CD Review by Rob Adams)
Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing emerged in the mid-1990s with a trio that earned a following, in Scotland certainly, for its wry, often subtly-camouflaged readings of pop songs by Abba, Blondie, The Police and others, which they weaved into similarly spacious original compositions and offbeat standards.
Honing went on to work with a number of notable Americans, including Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Craig Taborn, as well as recording with Paul Bley’s trio, Misha Mengelberg and Metropole Orkest (conducted and arranged by Vince Mendoza), and after adding electric guitars, voices and strings in other projects, his acoustic quartet brings him back to the trio’s modus operandi of saying rather a lot in a few, carefully chosen notes. This is in fact the third album with this trio. ‘Desire’ (2015) and ‘Goldbrun’ (2017), both won the Dutch Edison Award, and some commentators in Holland have noted that the new album ‘Bluebeard’ has the feel of being the third part of a trilogy.
Bluebeard is inspired broadly by the French legend of the serial wife-murdering duke and particularly by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna Millay’s variation, Sonnet Number Six, although works by Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Lord Byron and the Fitzgeralds act as primers of the eight tracks too.
The mood of understated drama and suspense is immediately apparent on the opening Bluebeard Maze, where pianist Wolfert Brederode adds harmonium and vibraphone with conspicuous stealth and effective shading as bassist Gulli Gudmundsson lends ominous presence and drummer Joost Lijbaart marks the funereal tempo behind of Honing’s lovely, melancholic saxophone expressions.
A Room with a View paces and pads through an air of mystery, with Gudmundsson’s bassline taking the role of the refrain that calls the listener back, and Narcissus finds Honing gliding strongly over Brederode’s lightly insistent piano vamping. At all times, with titles including The Art of Losing Isn’t Hard to Master and She Walked in Beauty, Like the Night, the intention is poetic. Mood and tone take precedence over technique, and before Honing stretches out on the more urgent Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, he recites Millay’s Bluebeard sonnet over solemn harmonium and eerily chiming vibraphone with suitable gravitas. A nice touch that somehow underlines the album overall’s strength of sparse, atmospheric storytelling.