4.5 stars, All Music Guide
A letter--so nice, call it a bellagram--arrives from Han Bennink: "How do you like the C.D. with Kor + Joode'je? (I luv it!!!!!!!!!!) There's no 3like that." High praise, from someone with trio experience extensive as this globetrotter's--experience taking in such volatile formations as the old ICP 3 with Willem Breuker and Misha Mengelberg, Peter Brötzmann/Fred van Hove/Bennink, or the knockabout Clusone 3.
This trio is no less dynamic, but it has it's own happy vibe and (rare in jazz these days) a distinctive and lively personality. Even hardcorefans of free improvising rarely list charm among the music's attributes, but this date has it by the bucket. Cor Fuhler believes good improvising is foremost a positive social experience for the players. That can be a recipe for self-indulgence, but with him, what's good for them is also good for us.
For reasons you can divine yourself, Fuhler and bassist Wilber de Joode are about the most frequently tapped sidefolk in Joost Buis and Eric Boeren's ongoing concert series at Zaal 100. On a typical Tuesday, that Amsterdam neighborhood center becomes a sort of outcats' Minton's Playhouse: improvisers get attuned to possibilities fellow players raise, and learn how to steer a fire engine with more than one steering wheel. But Fuhler and de Joode go back way further, playing in lots of Cor's and other folks' bands-including Joost Buis's Famous Astronotes, where they play a lot of music by genial keyboard visionary Le Son'y Ra.
These Dutchmen know well that a good improviser is first of all a good listener, as attentive to nuance as Henry James's ideal reader. A good improviser also knows you don't have to cover everything, just something no one else is covering. These guys are good at instigating something, sticking with an idea that works, or twisting an exhausted motif into something more promising. They know when to hold 'em, when to fold, and when to cheat like hell.
I wish someone had recorded the touring trio of Charles Gayle, Sunny Murray and Wilbert de Joode-a great setting for Gayle by the way. Wil is prized (in Holland and out) for getting the strings to ring loud, plump and clear the way any good bassist did in the heroic days before amplification. He can groove like crazy too. Pair him with Bennink, free-stylist who time travels frequently to the era of Kenny Clarke and Gene Krupa, and even before you add Cor the band has a frame of reference different and broader than the norm.
Bennink is always fast and in the mood for fun, so there are no compatibility problems with the youngers. The sunny (Le Son'y) agreeable attitude, attention to detail and intelligent division of labor is as evident on the improvisations as the compositions.
Of all the musicians in the third generation of Dutch improvisers, Fuhler is the one founder Bennink feels closest to. Cor was born 3 July '64, a month after 22-year old Han recorded "Last Date" with Eric Dolphy. (Wilbert is from the generation between, born in '55.) The Dutch brand of improvised music which Bennink pioneered, and which began blossoming in the '60s, is part of what Cor grew up on. As teens, he and a drummer friend improvised duets inspired by Han's with Misha Mengelberg.
There is something Mengelbergian about Fuhler's music: a puckishness as piano improviser or melodist (you like a nice tune? Try "Stoomwals," "Bellagram," "Snelrecht," "Leec"); a composer’s as well as improviser's understanding of ensemble interrelationships; a stubborn will to use any material that tickles his ear; an appreciation for how Monk's melodies voiced in close intervals seemed to bend notes and transcend the tempered scale.
Misha was a counterpoint teacher and informal adviser to the young Cor when he was at the conservatory in Amsterdam. Mengelberg didn't forget him afterwards, would recommend him to anyone scouting fresh talent. A few months before this CD was recorded, Cor subbed for a sidelined Misha on a few dates with his ICP Orchestra, and fit right in.
Still, what Cor wants from the keyboard is very different, and he does not sound like Misha (or Guus Janssen, another Dutch composer/improviser with whom Cor's worked, and who like him has a taste for bright keyboard sonorities and brainy goofiness). Fuhler has his own sense of rhythm, and his own influences.
His tenure in the impro-pomo-pop band of Tilburg guitarist Jacques Palinckx nurtured his longtime love of the keyboard excesses of late '60s and early '70s rockers and art rockers. He's true to his own generational roots; his organ riffs are closer to Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge than Jimmy Smith at the chicken shack. But he also likes Sun Ra's space-noise thing. For Cor a working Farfisa or Philicorda organ or antique Moog Rogue is more precious than a Louis Quatorze sideboard.
You wouldn't call Cor hyper, he's too easy-going, but he stays busy with various projects: staging a shadow-puppet whodunit with a gamelan-and-Western orchestra; inveigling classical musicians into improvising; writing witty, subversive pieces for chamber ensembles like Maarten Altena's, with which he's guested. He likes to travel (as I write this he's wandering Mexico, no one back home knows where), keeping an eye out for cultural absurdities at home and abroad. He is maybe a little overfond of rubberhead TV sci-fi, but at least it makes him laugh. He can be very funny himself, with few words. He likes puns, anagrams and transpositions: clues for anyone puzzling over the title of his previous CD, the solo "7 CC IN 10" (GeestGronden 15).
That's a fine album and an excellent demonstration of what he does under the hood of a piano--attacking or coaxing sound from the strings with a variety of objects--but as you might expect with someone into social improvising, playing with other folks brings out his very best. It gives him more ideas to feed off, and inspires more initiatives of his own. Sociability helps explain why this recital is so warm and listener-friendly. So does the (often deceptively simple) material Cor composes. The pieces he writes may work like his improvising: may take a basic idea and twist it around, perhaps divorcing it from its original context before bringing it back home.
Fuhler took a year off before he went into the conservatory, an elbows-deep apprenticeship in the family business, carpentry. For years he's built increasingly complex instruments of his own design, culminating in the keyolin: half violin, half clavichord. It's a violin (or viola) secured upside down in a bracket above a three-octave keyboard-and-hammers mechanism jury-rigged from a scrapped piano. With bow held hairs-up in his right hand, he sounds one or both of the keyolin's two strings, as his left hand plays a key whose mechanism 'fingers' the strings to control their pitch. As on clavichord the keys are touch-sensitive, so you can bend a note and get flexible vibrato.
That he can sound weirdly like Stuff Smith or Ray Nance or sci-fi theremin makes keyolin no less attractive. On melodica, he can sound oddly like Toots Theilemans on harmonica. Or not. Such correspondences are largely coincidental anyway. Cor Fuhler projects a consistent personality through several instrumental voices, no simple feat as he doesn't simply play the same licks on each.
None of his keyboards is used for novelty value; they are always within reach, to be integrated at any moment. Seeing Fuhler with melodica and keyolin mounted over the piano keyboard, organ at a right angle on his right, his set-up looks like a keyboardists response to everything-at-hand versatility of the trap set. And, uh, maybe a little like Keith Emmerson.
We might also mention the free flow between the pre-composed and instantly-composed material, making distinctions between them seem unimportant. Add to that each musician's diverse tastes, and you have a trio to satisfy fans of Medeski Martin and Wood as well as Mengelberg and Bennink.
author of "New Dutch Swing"
released September 27, 2013
piano organ melodica keyolin
Wilbert de Joode,
Compositions Cor Fuhler: 1 2 4 7 10 12
Compositions Fuhler Bennink de Joode: 3 5 6 8 9 11 13 14
BIMhuis Amsterdam 16 & 17 February 1998
Recording (no overdubs): Dick Lucas, Piet Hein van der Poel
Editing: Cor Fuhler, Dick Lucas
Production: Cor Fuhler, Friso Haverkamp, Guus Janssen
Cover by: Etienne Elias
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