Michiel Braam - "Michiel vs. Braam"
[Bik Bent Braam, www.toondist.nl]

Klaas Hekman - "Yolo"
[Strotbrock, www.toondist.nl]

Peter Kowald - "Silence and Flies Live at Nigglmuhle"
[Free Elephant, www.free-elephant.de]

Solo records are an art form in themselves. This is a scenario where the musician has to prove the program they're putting across is worth our time. No back-up or accompanying cast means the job is that much harder for the solo performer.

Almost as in a fox-trot, Michiel Braam emphasizes the melodic side on his solo CD "Michiel vs. Braam". Dutch pianist, Braam is probably best known for his big-band project Bik Bent Braam and for the trio BraamdeJoodeVatcher [their "Monk Materials" CD on BVHaast comes highly recommended]. All of the compositions on his second solo CD have been previously released, though it's revealing to hear them in their stripped down versions. He takes his music very seriously and his compositions take priority as all lead sheets are published in the CD booklet. The pieces' pacing is fast-as-lightning. This man goes through changes at extreme speeds. Though some of the themes and ideas in the pieces may be short-lived, none of them seem underdeveloped. His delivery is clean but in places it tends to get somewhat dry and limiting. What I lack somehow is the improvisational side of this musician. He can improvise with some of the best, which is odd that he sticks so closely to his written material. Is he afraid to step out of the box and exhibit total freedom?

To be honest, there are only a handful of jazz musicians who are brave enough to pick up the bass saxophone in their career among those are Peter Brotzmann, Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton. Dutch musician Klaas Hekman is not interested in cacophony of the bass sax per se. His aim is to put across the rich and warm beauty of his chosen instrument. Whether it's John Tchicai's [incidentally, Hekman is a member of the Six Winds ensemble with Tchicai], Umezu Kazutoki's material or his own compositions that he's performing, the main ingredient is warmth. The power of the bass sax is tremendous. Anyone who has seen this instrument being played live will attest to its massive force. While someone like Peter Brotzmann can devastate and manipulate the instrument to his own needs, Klaas prefers to underplay. Sure there are moments such as "Water", where we feel the obscene power of this instrument as Klaas belts out some mighty gale winds. [Klaas has showed the potent power of his horn on previous occasions, such as Intermission 3 bass + 1 bass sax quartet.] However, large chunk of this CD is quite melodic and almost serene. One of my favourite pieces is "Four threehorns", where Lou Mallozzi recites some off-the-wall scribes between Hekman's wildly poetic lines. Just to show off his skill, Klaas takes a short flute interlude on "As a flute", which is fairly tender in itself.

Don't fear the bass sax. Sure, it has colossal power, but it doesn't bite.One musician who has never had any difficulty in telling intricate stories on his double bass was Peter Kowald. In a conversation, he once said, "Solo is a good school. One can formulate something alone, without the help of anyone. The process is not determined by others. Solo makes you independent." Sure enough, Kowald was a towering figure that stood and watched proud as his bass skills have blossomed in multitude of variations over the more than three decades of intense labour. The 70 minute tour de force, "Silence and Flies" [recorded almost exactly a year prior to Kowald's untimely death] is another example of the story-telling he taught us to treasure over the years. Peter caresses his bass into submission, getting almost an orchestral feel. As he scrapes his bow across the strings, slowly his story comes to life. There is conflict, much abrasion and finally, a resolution, where his story climaxes. In sections, his bass sounds like a drone instrument, slowly weaving us into a dream-like state, while on other occasions, he captivates as his bass is talking in an almost human language.

"Silence and Flies" stands as testament that Peter Kowald was one gifted performer whose passing came too soon.

Tom Sekowski

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