The Flatlands Collective – Maatjes (CF 127)
Tone Dialing – Rigop Me (Evil Rabbit ER 07)
Two complementary – and exemplary – looks at the compositional and improvisational skills of Jorrit Dijkstra, a transatlantic musician who frequently works with musicians both in his native Holland and the United States.
Now based in the Boston area, Dijkstra’s partners on Rigop Me are Dutch guitarist Paul Pallesen – in whose Bite the Gnatze, the saxophonist also plays – and Berlin-based, Melbourne-born drummer Steve Heather. Curiously enough, all the other members of The Flatlands Collective are Chicagoans – trombonist Jeb Bishop, clarinetist James Falzone, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly – all part of that city’s explosion of now not-so-young improv talent. On Maatjes Lonberg-Holm also plays electronics, while Dijkstra plays lyricon and analog electronics as well as alto saxophone. However the sax is left in its case on Rigop Me as Dijkstra only works out on lyricon, loop machine and analog electronics.
Many of the tracks on that CD are built upon shattering electronic blasts that loop and pulse into a constant processed drone, leavened by clinks, flanges and claw-hammer banjo-like picks from the guitarist. Sometimes the timbres from each instrument are undifferentiated; other times sound(s) can be properly attributed. There are intermittent drags and bounces from cymbal, nerve beats from drum sticks and distorted downward runs from a potentially unplugged electric guitar. Most of the time, however, these textures are shrouded in part by flat-line static and crackling, as pinball-like smacks and celesta-type pings cumulate to waft across the full broadband spectrum..
Two divergent examples of this appear on “Fezex Me” and “Rigop Me”. Although eschewing the rock-star-like reverb he shows off elsewhere, the former is a Pallesen showcase. Here, his single-string picking and intense arpeggios are magnified with whirling e-bow pressure, as whooshes and crunches gradually move to the foreground as space-satellite signaling and quivering pulses fill all the remaining space. Eventually a combination of slurred string fingering and mouth-slapping, probably lyricon quacks lead to a diminuendo fade.
In contrast, “Rigop Me” is a group effort that reveals surprising lyricism among the guitarist’s rasgueado, Dijkstra’s slide whistle-like shrills and restrained drum beats. Moving from anadante to adagio, the broken chords linger and expand underlining seemingly random snare drum beats with stretched pitch velocity. Finally the piece reaches a climax of ring-modulator-like clangs and undulating pitch adjustments.
Minimizing the electronic interface and doubling the number of players Maatjes – named for Dutch raw herring, a popular street snack – was recorded nearly two years later in 2008, following a European tour by the sextet. Building on this momentum, the program is mostly made up of Dijkstra’s compositions whose arrangements emphasize the formalized and programmatic. Group improvisations, “In D Flat Minor” especially, provide the exceptions, with that tune traveling through the peaks and valley of interchangeable riffs. Stuffed into it are lower-pitched saxophone tonguing, double-gaited swing from both string players and quasi oomph-pah-pah from the trombonist.
Bishop’s plunger tones and cries from the reed section chromatically balance a track like “Mission Rocker” so that the higher-pitched voices meld into pedal-point bends from bowed bass and cello. Shifting to an adagio section, Falzone’s liquid stop-starts take centre stage, as blustery ‘bone brays plus Rosaly’s drum rolls and pops hold the bottom.
In contrast, despite double-timed ruffs and beats from the drummer “Micro Mood” emphasizes a more formal, Europeanized lilt with cello sweeps and trombone pumps The contrapuntal melody breaks apart – and aided by synthesizer twists – turns and pulses back again upon itself. Furthermore,”Phil’s Tesora” is filled with bow-snapping sul ponticello lines from Lonberg-Holm, tension-building ostinato from Roebke and rappelling rim shots and bounces fragment the narrative enough so that the popping notes from the horns don’t control the tune. The weather further clears up with reed-biting clarinet blasts, braying trombone grace notes and background hissing and fluttering synthesizer reverb.
Dijkstra’s multi-faceted contrapuntal structure is best expressed on the climatic “Sirocco Song” as contralto clarinet provides strident contrast to the other horns. Then, after Bishop tongues fragments of the intricate melody, the cellist sounds a tremolo version of the same pattern. The lyricon’s warbling trill is seconded by clarinet chirps until the vector shifts to a horn trio. Finally, as Rosaly’s clipping rim shots and press rolls maintain the beat, an echoing finale is constructed out of a smooth clarinet obbligato and thick trombone mutterings.
Inventively transatlantic, Dijkstra’s music can be appreciated whether it suggests the flatlands of the Netherlands or Illinois.