THE REIN de
GRAAFF TRIO, WITH RONNIE CUBER & NICK BRIGNOLA
Jazz happens. On the spur of the moment, at the drop of a
hat, players rev up and blow and out comes jazz. In the truest sense of the word, that's what happened on BARITONE
EXPLOSION. This recording
collaboration between American baritone players Ronnie Cuber and Nick Brignola
with Holland's long standing Rein De Graaff jazz trio took place on the first
day of a week long tour. With no
rehearsal, just a brief meeting to discuss what they might play, they took to
the stage and sent their performances on this disc across Holland, live.
"It was a radio broadcast that
came from Nick Vollebregt's Jazzcafe in the little town of Laren," de
Graaff says of the first stop on their tour, just outside of Amsterdam. "It's a Thursday night radio broadcast
live. It's been going on for more than
two years on TROS radio."
And they made jazz happen. With the
innate impulse that drives the best jazz, they took the stage having never
played these tunes (or anything else) together before.
"We went straight into this
place and played," says de Graaff. "There are some tunes on there that we didn't even know we were
going to play. Nick just started `In A
Sentimental Mood.' That was very spontaneous."
In addition to the spontaneity, BARITONE
EXPLOSION brings some other great jazz traditions to the
(turn)table. Recorded live, this
captures an event as much as it does music. That element of jazz can get lost in the multi-track, make it sound
perfect culture of the 1990s. Where so
much of jazz music strives for blemishless studio sterility, the stage gives
"Sometimes the music may sound
a little rough," notes de Graaff, "but a lot of things are happening
that never will happen in a studio."
As they didn't have a chance to
rehearse, they had to speak the lingua franca of jazz -- standards. Ranging from the Brazilian romance of
"Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" to the familiar bop of "Night
In Tunisia," BARITONE EXPLOSION speaks a language both
listeners and musicians can understand and embrace. In jazz, the tunes are almost a given -- the quality of the
performance and improvisation makes it or breaks it. Starting with ace players never hurts.
For twenty years, the Rein de Graaff
trio has been among the leading lights under the northern lights of the Dutch
jazz scene. De Graaff himself comes from the northern reaches of the
Netherlands. Exposed to jazz via radio
and records, he put aside classical piano lessons in favor of experimenting
with the new and exotic sounds he heard from artists like Bud Powell. While
still playing the piano, he started listening intently to horn players like
Charlie Parker, Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley. Learning from their lines, he developed his unique, horn inspired
approach to the keyboard.
A prize winning performance at the
National Jazz Festival at the age of 19 catapulted de Graaff into prominence on
the Dutch jazz scene. Through the 60s,
he worked with tenor player Dick Vennik in a quartet that recorded six
albums. He also would back visiting
jazz dignitaries like Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and Dexter Gordon.
He has worked in a trio with
bassist Koos Serierse and drummer Eric
Ineke for over twenty years. Additionally, he uses the concert stage to teach, running a long
standing series of `Course In Bebop' concerts, which helped him earn a Bird
Award for special merits in sustaining and promoting a level of the finest
modern jazz tradition in Holland at the 1986 North Sea Festival. This concert series is partially responsible
for this recording.
"Ronnie and Nick came to the
Netherlands to play for my `Course In Bebop,'" de Graaff explains. "The subject was the history of the
baritone sax in jazz."
Few players embody the power and
understand the versatility of the baritone sax better than Nick Brignola and
Ronnie Cuber. Both musicians are
respected leaders in their own right, both on stage and record. Cuber released The Scene Is Clean not
too long ago on Milestone. Brignola's
most recent release, Like Old Time, came out on Reservoir.
Cuber, born on Christmas day, has a
gift for the baritone sax that transcends genre. He is as at home on stage or in the studio with the Mingus Big
Band as he is with Dr. John. He does considerable arranging for both. Cuber's
deep knifelike solos have also graced recordings for artists ranging from
George Benson to Eddie Palmieri, among many many others. His stint with Palmieri, as well as his
Brooklyn upbringing might account for the deep swath of Latin sounds in his
most recent solo projects.
Nearly as eclectic, Nick Brignola
has played bop and done time in fusion. He has worked with artists ranging from
Cal Tjader top Woody Herman. While many
bands see fit to work without any baritone players at all, Brignola has spend a
good hunk of his career exploring the possibilities involved in multiple
baritones. He recorded these
experiments with Cuber as well as Pepper Adams and Cecil Payne on albums
including Burn Brigade and Baritone Madness. His crisp biting tone is especially potent
at the low end of his horn.
"I thought it would be a great
idea to have the men I consider the two greatest baritone players in the world
together," de Graaff says of the pairing. "When they play together, it's an inspiration for the both of
them. There are only a few people in
the world who are really great soloists on the baritone."
De Graaff has known Cuber for nearly
20 years, when he saw the baritone player working with Lee Konitz in New
York. He immediately knew he had to
record with this talented and fiery sax man, and did two years later on the
album New York Jazz (with Tom Harrell and Sam Jones). They became friends and played whenever they
had the chance (not as frequently as they might have liked, given they lived at
opposite ends of the world.) The
friendship and musical comradeship that has lasted nearly two decades is fully
in evidence on BARITONE EXPLOSION.
De Graaff met Nick Brignola when the
two toured with Art Farmer a few years ago. While De Graaff had worked with both, and Brignola had worked with Cuber
on the Burn Brigade recording, the three had never been together before
they started discussing tunes for BARITONE EXPLOSION.
The synergy between the players is
nothing short of remarkable. From the
wry little lick the horn players toss in while comping for de Graaff's solo and
the subsequent inventions on the melody that close "Softly" to the
doubled lines of the Cuber composition "Crack Down," they think along
very similar musical lines. This becomes further evident as the band launches
into "Caravan," with the baritones first dueting on the melody and
then dancing around it before each takes a solo turn.
Both sax players get to showcase
their formidable abilities individually, as well. Brignola takes his call of Ellington's "In A Sentimental
Mood" alone, basking in the afterglow of the Ellington/Tizol composition
"Caravan," that they just finished. In the spirit of this romantic jazz, Cuber steps out with "What's
New." Yet the mesh together again
brilliantly on "Night In Tunisia," sounding for all their wind like a
big band toward the end, so many ideas ricochet between the horns. They romp through "Blue 'Trane,"
and keep that high energy flowing into Cuber's "Crack Down."
Throughout, de Graaff's linear
soloing might as well be another horn, as he frequently eschews the piano's
harmonic potential in favor of its melodic nuances. Working with a pair baritone horns, he's often the furthest up in
the high range at this gig.
Even more telling, this was all his
idea. That's yet another important element of jazz embodied in this
recording. Jazz is the music of ideas,
both ideas cogitated and rehearsed in the woodshed and ideas unleashed and
immediate on the stage. Playing
standards, a musician can play it safe or reinvent every note as it gets
played. BARITONE EXPLOSION
rides the waves of invention. Rarely do the baritones fall into the familiar
role the horn is called on to play, comping and augmenting the bass. Here, the players revel in the chance to
bring the horn up front. That's as much
a credit to de Graaff as to Cuber and Brignola. After all, the whole concept of the album falls on the leader.
"I always thought it would be a
great idea to have them playing together," de Graaff asserts. "Finally, it happened."
Just like jazz.