Blue Lines Sextet - reviews

The Wire, Andrew Hamilton, July 2017

Bij De Dieren Thuis means "At The Animals’ House", though apparently something's lost in translation – song-titles are also mostly in Dutch. Live at the Bimhuis is more Anglophone, but both albums are very Dutch in ethos. That implies an anarchistic, irreverent, absurdist wit, improvisational freedom, and theatrical presentation – something to do with the Netherlands being (along with Britain) the 17th century home of liberty.
There's a touch of genius about both these highly individual and inventive albums. A second common factor, apart from Dutchness, is pianist Michiel Scheen. It's not surprising you've not heard of him – he hides his light under a bushel, and during the last decade, disappeared from the scene altogether for three years. Scheen isn't just a musician's musician – he's a musician's musician's musician. He studied with Misha Mengelberg at Amsterdam's Sweelinck Conservatory, and his work has been described as "post-Monk, post-Mengelberg".
Replacing Guus Janssen in the Maarten Altena Octet, he joined the Blue Lines Trio in 2012 with founder Raoul van de Weide (bass) and George Hadow (drums). It was the resourceful bassist who got Scheen “out of the shadows” that year.
"I think up musical sketches that lead to improvisations, and George and Raoul make it a gesamtwerk [complete work]", Scheen comments. That leads us to a further common factor in the two discs – structure against freedom. Often plangent, groove-based thematic material is juxtaposed with passages or tracks of free improvisation.
For Live at the BIMhuis the Trio becomes a Sextet, with Ada Rave (tenor saxophone), Bart Maris (trumpets) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone). Scheen wrote six tracks – the remainder are free improvisations, plus two jazz standards by Haden and Mingus.
They interpret Haden’s “Silence”, one of his most intriguing creations, not quite with the usual stately melancholy – there is a hint of the absurd in the wavering vibrato. Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" – his tribute to Lester Young - also gets a maverick interpretation, with the theme stated only at the end.
Bij De Dieren Thuis is less anarchic, and if anything more captivating. It features leader Jan Nijdam on bass, Scheen on piano, Tobias Delius on saxophone and clarinet, and Alan Purves on drums. The compositions are melodically rich, and particularly memorable are "Spago Legato", "Scherpe Randjes", and "Het Zwarte Pad". "Whimsical Elf" shows off Delius's fluffy-toned, Jimmy Giuffre-like clarinet, on which he has a gorgeous chalumeau register.
The disc ends with a little humorous post-production – the musicians talking, against a few musical sounds. These are exceptionally modest musicians.  I'm not sure they realise how good they are.

Cadence Magazine - Robert D. Rush, June 2017

Michael Scheen [p] worked with bassist Maarten Altena for years, back at the end of the 20th century. Then around 2014 he began the Blue Lines Trio with bassist Raoul van der Weide and drummer George Hadow. BLUE LINES SEXTET : LIVE AT THE BIMHUIS [Casco Records 005] came when Ada Rave [ss/ts/clt], Bart Maris [tpts/cor/bugle] and Wolter Wierbos [tbn] joined the trio 1/2/16 for 14 tracks [61:10] of mostly original music/improvs live. These are Dutch artists who have been part of the Dutch improvising scene and are well versed in the unique musical attitude of the European improvising scene and in particular the Dutch improvising personality which is noted for its irreverence, humor and surprise (or none of it). This is definitely for post bop fans and like much from Holland if you are not taken by it – wait around then give another listen as your relationship to this music is bound to change. Here the change goes from minimalist stumbling around to Ellington-like decrescendos.

Downtown Music Gallery - Bruce Lee Gallanter, May 2017

The Blue Lines Sextet is led by pianist Michiel Scheen*, who composed half of the songs here, while most of the other pieces are group improvs. I know of Mr. Scheen from the work he has done with Maarten Altena and Butch Morris. Longtime ICP trombonist, Wolter Wierbos, is another busy player who has worked with many: Available Jelly, Sean Bergin and Frank Gratkowski. Trumpeter Bart Maris has worked with 1000 (3 CDs) and prog bands: Univers Zero and Blast. Even the two rhythm team members are relatively familiar having both worked by American-born, Amsterdam-based saxist John Dikeman.
Michiel Scheen wrote half of the fifteen pieces here, the rest of which are improvs plus a couple of striking covers by Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden. It is often hard to tell the written pieces from the group improvs since both seem to move in unexpected ways. Each time we get a grip on a certain fixed point or charted section, the sextet erupt. Mr. Scheen has written some interesting music here which often starts one way then suddenly switches direction. There is a haunting, simmering version of Charlie Haden’s “Silence”, which features some hypnotic horn work from all three frontline brass and reed players. Whether playing charts or not, you can tell that this sextet’s members are listening closely and engaging in tight, spirited dialogue. The version of Mingus’ classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, is stretched out with selective free sections added, adding some mystery to what we think will happen with this familiar song. What I like most about this disc is the seamless way that most of the pieces unfold, impossible to tell the written from the unwritten segments. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

* The Blue Lines Sextet has no leader, but is organised collectively (MS).

Draaiomjeoren weblog - Jacques Los, April 24, 2017

In addition to the 540-545 improvisations, the Blue Lines Sextet's CD consists of compositions by Michiel Scheen, 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' by Charles Mingus and 'Silence' by Charlie Haden. The last two are (coincidentally?) bassists.
From the first track, entitled 'Chop', the concept is presented: a continuous, compact, cautious and accurate collective improvisation. Only rarely that concept is interrupted by melodic interplay in the compositions of Haden, Mingus and a single piece of Scheen.
Free jazz characteristics are prominent and dominant on this CD: free solo improvisations and ditto collective passages. The serene 'Silence' however, features trumpeter Bart Maris, who solos subdued and mourning. Then saxophonist Ada Rave and trombonist Wolter Wierbos, together with Maris, jointly conclude the lamentation. Interaction is essential in the group's concept and, based on mostly concise musical information, both the horns and the rhythm section - pianist Michiel Scheen, bassist Raoul van der Weide and drummer George Hadow - display extreme concentration and open ears.
Both in the compositions of Scheen and the six improvisations, the collective approach to improvisation is a constant quest of the sextet for ‘perfect’ interplay. The team proves to be quite successful in that. The musicians' capabilities provide a strong collaboration.
Scheen’s composition 'Stumble' is an exception, in which the subtle and spatial conjunction of the ensemble is replaced by violent and powerful musical interruptions. The name says it, right? - Guy Peters, April 24, 2017

On January 2, 2016, the Blue Lines Sextet delivered the best start of a new year a concert hall could wish for. In the Bimhuis the musicians played so convincingly that the music ended up on a new album. That in turn was presented in Amsterdam in April 2017, with - again - a generous concert that excelled in versatility.
First of all, let's celebrate the return of pianist Michiel Scheen on the scene. If something has become clear in the meanwhile, Scheen writes clever compositions, and, with the great help of these musicians, he diligently intervenes between structure and freedom. With a profound knowledge of tradition, the pieces all have a very specific character and diverse arrangements . Both "Solid" and the final "Chop" are tight, Monk-like pieces of angularness with a crunchy character, but even more beautiful is the way they serve as a springboard for exploration that continually test the elasticity of the material.
The concert produced two full sets, together well for more than two hours of music, with strikingly consistent quality. It showed how well the core trio - Scheen, bassist Raoul van der Weide and drummer George Hadow - interact, and the huge asset the horn players are – veterans Wolter Wierbos (trombone) and Bart Maris (trumpet), and the young, but impressive Ada Rave (tenorsaxophone). They all are individually strong improvisers, play complementary and, above all, are excellent listeners who feel very well what a piece or a passage needs.
Deliciously swirling themes, fluctuations, extended techniques, and tight textures are balanced by supportive arrangements and crackling interaction in constantly changing formations, with different musicians giving directions as well. Sometimes with a boppy nervousness, a little later with an interaction that resembles a chamber music concert. The selected compositions by Mingus or Haden, are executed with a refreshing combination of respect and freedom. It is the dialectic of composer and improvisator in a sometimes distorted, but always surprising form.
It is especially beautiful to see how this music can not just be pinned down. Van der Weide has a range of percussive objects on a table beside him, Rave puts a pot in the sax cup with eccentric results, Wierbos whistles through the trombone, Maris smears sounds like clods of glue. The musicians allow avant-gardist and experimental freedom, but at the same time they seem to have inspired themselves by Count Basie's loose approach, with heads that could be fooled around with. Even so again, this may sound a bit disrespectful for an ensemble that freely combine rap dribbles, expressively spattered, dazzling march music, hip New Orleans and freaking free jazz with the unchallenged charm that sounds like swingers such as Hodges, Carter and Ellington with their smaller ensembles.
In short: it was a very nice exercise in equilibrium. The Blue Lines Sextet eagerly plunges in compositions and explores those with close interactions and free spills, that sometimes improvisational passages seemed all orchestrated. Over two hours of music, that's pretty much, but it did not get boring for a second. That actually says everything. A band of attentive and resourceful personalities who find each other blindly, with some extra friction here and there, which you’ll never get tired of.

London Jazz News - Brian Marley - April 3, 2017

Although jazz is a language spoken internationally, regional variations abound. Here we have Dutch, known for its theatrical elements, a tendency to subject musical structure and form to loving abuse, and, of course, humour. That’s not to say it’s not a serious undertaking.
When the Jan Nijdam Kwartet lurches out of the briefly stated head of Ad Nasum into free play, there’s no pussyfooting, and no mistaking how closely the musicians are listening to each other. Double bassist Jan Nijdam composed all the pieces on Bij De Dieren Thuis (which translates as 'at home with the animals'), but although he’s the bandleader he’s not placed under a spotlight. This is a group effort, in which everyone pulls their weight.
Tobias Delius, tenor sax and clarinet, is perhaps the best-known player in the quartet, but drummer Alan Purves (who, as far back as 1982, made an excellent duo disc with Ernst Reijseger) and pianist Michiel Scheen have equally strong credentials. Delius plays tenor with excited yips punctuating his phrases, à la Oliver Lake, and his tone on clarinet is pure silk, especially on the ballad Whimsical Elf, which, after a statement of the theme, opens up into a laconic free improvisation that in an instant travels light years from where it began, only to have the theme reappear when least expected.
The music is, in other words, tighter than tight, even though you may be led to believe otherwise. Tracks are generally short, only one topping the six-minute mark, the compositions are memorable and the improvising is first class throughout.
The common factor between the two CDs under review is pianist Michiel Scheen. He, Raoul van der Weide (double bass, crackle box, found objects) and George Hadow (drums) comprise the Blue Lines Trio which, on Live at the Bimhuis, is augmented by Ada Rave (saxophones, clarinet) Bart Maris (trumpets, cornet, bugle) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone).
Apart from two pieces from jazz repertory – Silence by Charlie Haden and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Charles Mingus, the theme of which is sneaked up on from behind artfully woven thickets of free improvisation – all compositions are by Scheen, and they tend to be collected into small suites with sequentially numbered improvisations. Four of these pieces – Solid, Idols, Stumble and Sigh) can also be found on the trio’s 2014 recording.
Scheen’s playing contains elements of Guus Janssen and the late Misha Mengelberg, both of whom drew inspiration from Thelonious Monk’s jabbing style of pianism and his love of a well-placed dissonance to spice up the music, but he’s his own man, a superb improviser who never overplays his hand.
In fact, a certain pithiness is characteristic of both Live at the Bimhuis and Bij De Dieren Thuis. Of the reed and horn players in the sextet, the fruity tone and exuberant exclamations of Wolter Wierbos stand out, but, quite frankly, they all shine brightly.

Jazzflits 275 - Herman te Loo - March 27, 2017

Over a year ago, pianist Michiel Scheen invited three guests to a performance of his Blue Lines Trio at the Bimhuis. The recently released CD 'Live At The Bimhuis' proves that it was a tremendous plan. The debut album of the Blue Lines Trio from 2014 Scheen showed that he has much more musical expressiveness than the amount of his concert appearances would suggest. With subtle drummer George Hadow and bassist Raoul van der Weide (one of the key figures of the Amsterdam improv scene) he formes a tasteful, intelligent and imaginative trio. The addition of trumpeter Bart Maris, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and saxophonist Ada Rave yields more than a trio with guests. Scheen wrote some clever compositions for this new combination. In addition, the music tastes like the work of Dutch impro composers such as Guus Janssen, Maarten Altena and Paul Termos. The opening track, 'Chop', could have easily been made by Janssen. But Scheen is too willful to be just a pure follower of the above three. In the roaring 'Solid' he takes his hat off to Charles Mingus, returning later in a reinterpretation of "Goodbye pork pie hat". Among the compositions of the  pianist (and the wonderful 'Silence' by Charlie Haden) six improvisations are sandwiched in. It is even more clear why Scheen specifically chose these musicians: each with a completely unique, recognizable sound, but especially inclined to prioritize the collective result. The improvisations (each with a number) are compact, clear and to the point.

CORRECTION Review Blue Lines Sextet
My review of the Blue Lines Sextet 'Live At The Bimhuis' CD (in the previous issue of JF) contains information that is not entirely correct. The original trio was formed by bassist Raoul van der Weide, not by Michiel Scheen. The suggestion to add horn players Rave, Maris and Wierbos for the Blue Lines sextet was also made by Van der Weide. In addition, the musicians emphasize that there is no one leader in the group. Both the trio and the sextet function as a collective. The new album is presented on the 22nd of April at the Amsterdam stage Splendor.

Herman te Loo - Jazz flash 276 - April 17, 2017

BIMhuis, January 2nd, 2016 - Guy Peters

While the majority of concert halls and theaters are still closed, the Bimhuis understands that this is the ideal time to put on live music. So, on to Amsterdam, where an XL version of the Dutch Blue Lines Trio was waiting for us in the New Year's concert in 2016 .

The Bimhuis is also the place where pianist Michiel Scheen, bassist Raoul van der Weide and drummer George Hadow recorded their debut record in 2014. That album offered a very successful combination of lyricism with barbs, dribbling improvisations, slightly crooked swing, Monk-like interventions and of course a little humor. Dutch through and through, yet again with its own face. So, we should be curious how the band would sound with additional people as Bart Maris (trumpet), a heavily pregnant Ada Rave (tenor sax ) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone).

The answer came quickly: the character had been preserved, but the sound was richer. The Blue Lines Trio may not (yet) be such a well known name, it is now indeed a well-oiled formation in which the three musicians with personality engage in an extensive work experience. Drummer George Hadow - still only 23 years old! – stands out, and certainly is not inferior to his more experienced colleagues. He plays light and swinging where it should, with a slightly anarchic Bennink key where possible, and is a crucial link in the closeness of the trio.

It also ensured that the horn players were actually placed in a luxury position, which they used to the max especially in the more open second set. With extensive solo time, extended techniques and ever-changing sub-groups they could comment on trio, but also cross, thicken or assume the role of a sometimes wrenching and transverse interlocutor. The concert, lasting for a total of more than 100 generous minutes, excelled in variety and constantly moving relationships, in which nobody really was dominant, but where everyone's contribution was equal.

So it was striking that the two sets differed quite strongly. The first contained more composed material, and therefore was more compact and accessible. For example the crashing and stumbling piece as "Solid ", with its flashy, bop-like patches and start/stop dynamics, with powerful digressions, fast runs, swift swing came all over you in a bouncing, salutary gulp. From “Mood Indo", an amusing twist of the Ellington classic, the emphasis lay more on partial fractions and was peaked by a quartet with Rave as an excellent, ripping soloist.

A highlight: a precious version of Charlie Haden's "Silence", with widely spread sound-effects from soloist Maris, counterpointed by isolated and desolate harmonies by Scheen, which led to moments of stunning melancholy. The shuffling conjunction of horns - with again, of course, a host of distinctive sounds from Wierbos - caused a barely suppressed emotion. And before you knew it, the first set ended and you found yourself experiencing tumbling teamwork, freely and loose musicianship, but with a diverse consistency as an underlying principle.

The second set had a different nature. The contours of the pieces blurred, influences were less emphasized and the balance shifted slightly more towards improvisation, the free game domain. Compositions were not announced, they just trotted around each other. A lighthearted bossa was connected to New Orleans influences by Maris, in a series of impulsive moments. A "who does what? "- moment occurred and the voltage disappeared, but in the end, the meandering route led to new creative solutions.

Van der Weide de-tuned the strings of his contrabass to a heavy, ominous growl, put stuff between the strings, used dishes, a bow and his familiar ‘crackle box’. An eccentric color range, but no gratuitous freak show. The musicians played with too much focus to lose their path. Nice ripping sections alternated with lyrical themes, the trio was challenged by the horns and ultimately the usually cautious playing Scheen went into a powerful, almost bombastic surging euphoria; to then disappear into the belly of the piano while his companions explored just as eagerly. It led to the clever final of a versatile and tasty menu which was rightly greeted very enthusiastically by the nicely filled concert hall. Overall, an excellent start to the year for band, BIMhuis and visitors.

Look here for pictures of the concert, by Geert Vandepoule.

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