Blue Lines Trio - CD Chance and Change - Casco 008 - september 2022

Chance and change

1 Diddleville
2 Improvisation 2153
3 Iggy Abdul
4 Improvisation 2155
5 Culture Boy
6 Improvisation 2154
7 Improvisation 2152
8 Traces
9 Improvisation 2156
10 Vacuumville
11 Improvisation 2158
12 Improvisation 2159
13 Clouds and sunny chunks
14 Improvisation 2167 & Home

George Hadow - drums
Michiel Scheen - piano
Raoul van der Weide - contrabass, sound objects, crackle box

Tracks 3, 5 and 8 composed by Raoul van der Weide (BUMA/STEMRA). Tracks 1, 10, 13 and 14 composed by Michiel Scheen.
Recorded June 6 and 7, 2022 at Atelier 5, Amsterdam by Hayden Hook.
Mixing and mastering by Hayden Hook. Produced by Raoul van der Weide.
Cover art: Raoul van der Weide, graphic design by Hidde Dijkstra.
Distribution: Toondist
Casco Records 008.

Released September 1, 2022  

Blue Lines Trio: Chance and Change

- Liner notes by Kevin Whitehead / July 2022

"Free music: is it okay if it swings? Blue Lines Trio can answer that: Oh my, yes. It’s true some progressive improvisers appear swing-averse, as if buoyant propulsive floating syncopated rhythm were passé: a line they wouldn’t cross. We might trace this attitude back to the new assertive freedoms that drummers and bassists enjoyed in the 1960s, liberated at last from subservience to the beat. Back then, in the new and exciting field of European improvised music, rejecting swing had a political dimension: a pushback against American (rhythmic) hegemony. Little as the quietly cooperative English and machine-gunning German free schools had in common, they shared that aversion. The Dutch gave up swinging too—for about five minutes; they (cough Han and Misha) loved that buoyant beat too much. Dutch improvisers had their own aversion, to ruling anything out: for such free-thinkers free music means free to (do what you want), not free from (traditional musical values). The object is to broaden the possibilities, not narrow them.

BLT is hardly the only piano/bass/drums trio who swing, play tunes and play free—maybe you heard of Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette. But it is rare for a band’s free pieces to swing so hard and habitually: hear the back half of “Improvisation 2153” or “2154.” Even scratchy “2158” goes there. Part of the trio’s buoyancy stems from Raoul’s plump woody sound, at a realistic acoustic volume, which reinforces his pliable beat and tuneful figurations. (There’s sly humor in his lines, as in his talk.) Michiel Scheen’s piano sound is equally distinctive. In the 1990s his diamond-hard attack at the ivories made him pianist of choice for (among others) leaders Paul Termos—Raoul’s mate in a few bands, earlier still—and Maarten Altena. (At the same time Michiel had his own bands, projects, records and composer commissions to deal with.) Some percussive pianists sound heavy, overbearing. Michiel’s sound is often bright and springy, as on Raoul’s “Trace Materials”: you can almost see hands as well as piano hammers bouncing clear of the keys, kinetic. He improvises long coherent sequences but doesn’t forget to come up for air. (It’s not just wind players who need breath pauses; listeners do too.) Drummer George Hadow keeps his mates surging ahead, propelling the action with every stick or brush stroke. As I’ve written elsewhere, Hadow’s explicitly jazzy time-keeping isn’t at-one-remove style-quoting: he loves that slippery pulsation.

When the open improvising is this strong, the program’s composed pieces had better measure up. Michiel’s “Diddleville” kicks Chance and Change off right. Fleet bass and drums (dig those brushes) spark an inspired piano flight, an essay on clarity and speed. The off-kilter “Clouds and sunny chunks” is also title track to Michiel’s 2020 solo album (Filiaal 5), just as Raoul and George had recorded the bassist’s “Culture Boy,” with its echoes of a Nat King Cole evergreen, in 2018 for the Xavier Pamplona Septet’s Dutch repertoire CD Play the (Casco 006). On the trio “Culture Boy,” the melody is mostly in the bass, which mostly plays melody: a quixotic choice that works. There are many such choices here, like the typewriter rhythms Raoul and George tap into their duo “Improvisation 2155.” (A large dried Gambian bean pod wedged between bass strings creates authentic West African rattling.)

The players hail from non-adjacent decades—Raoul was born in 1949, Michiel in ’63. No longer a newcomer, George Hadow, b.1992, hails from Devon in the southwest UK, and began studying drums as a kid, in time drawing timely inspiration from among others Joey Baron, whom he saw live a few times, and Han Bennink, discovered via YouTube. That discovery led George to enroll at the Dutch Impro Academy in 2011. Within a year he was living in Amsterdam, where he soon crossed paths and instantly connected with Raoul. “I’ve played with him in many bands and many more ad hoc improvised settings—more than anyone anywhere,” says George. When the bassist brought Michiel in to play a trio session in 2012, the drummer and pianist had the same kind of quick connection. Hear their telepathic conjunctions on the duo “2159” and the trio’s “Improvisation 2153” in particular. BLT can make it all sound easy, but they work at it—try to play together every week (where, say, Jarrett and company only convened on stage).

George Hadow: “One of the strongest parts of the trio is, when we sit down to improvise, and create a piece of music with a nice structure. It’s a cheeky trio in a way: Any of us can take any decision at any moment—to break things up, or reintroduce a previous section, or just go BLAM. I love those telepathic moments. And we do swing quite a bit. To me the trio sounds quite inspired by Dutch music—humorous, colorful, playful: musicians unafraid to take risks. We find our own strange way of playing jazz.”

It’s that freedom to not freedom from he’s talking about. Lines, even blue ones, can divide: think of borderlines. But other lines connect, take the short route between isolated points, and in so doing join those points together in some maybe-more-than-symbolic way. Blue Lines Trio make it all too clear which side of that line they play on.

Blue Lines Trio’s eponymous first album from 2014 (Casco 002) was a gem. Does Chance and Change advance their range? Oh my, yes."

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