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 jazz life.

            "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.