When saxophonist Willem Breuker founded the Kollektief in Holland 28 years ago, he reacted against the currents in the jazz avant-garde as much as he embraced them. The saxophonist used explosive tones and played with the unshackled experimentation that emerged in the 1960s. But he also felt that these approaches could accomplish only so much.
Instead, he brought that sense of freedom to his wildly eclectic, yet carefully structured compositions and founded this collective to perform them. Breuker also liberally includes sources from outside a strict jazz lexicon. The Kollektief has drawn on European folk songs, fanfares and modern classical ideas, as well as swing. Throughout the years, the group also embraced a theatrical sense of the absurd, especially in its concerts.
While the Kollektief's performance at HotHouse was more restrained than on previous visits no big chorus lines or costumes on Monday its energy was channeled into frequently stunning music. Most of the concert featured material from the group's ironically titled new disc, "Misery," which is the third disc of a trilogy ("Hunger!" and "Thirst!" preceded it). In many ways, these songs and the group's performance offer a provocative interpretation of the collective improvisation in early jazz.
On the opener, "Hap Sap," the Kollektief performed with the impeccable unison of the first swing bands, but at a breakneck speed that would have been unimaginable then and still seems unreal. The velocity never detracted from the alluring melody itself. Just as stunning was how the ensemble slowly brought in the three saxophonists, two trombonists and pianist to create a quietly evocative mood on "Wake Up." With plunger mutes and growls, trumpeters Boy Raaymakers and Andy Altenfelder, along with trombonists Andy Bruce and Bernard Hunnekink, invoked the style and spirit of Duke Ellington's initial groups.
Perhaps the Kollektief's most jovial paradox is that its cohesion actually enhances the strengths of its individual musicians. Pianist Henk de Jonge's crafty stride expertise often served as the ensemble's central nervous system. During their solos, Raaymakers and Hunnekink wildly stepped above the group's animated voices, but were sensible enough to contribute to its musical conversation. The trombonist is one of the few musicians in jazz who nonchalantly also doubles on tuba. Alto saxophonist Hermine Deurloo used her cool approach to establish a telling contrast to the band's extroversion.
Breuker himself restricted his own solo space. His high-pitched squalls on soprano saxophone lines gave the impression of what a circus should be. When he had nothing left to say on his instrument, he just stood at the microphone and breathed.
Toward the end of the night, the performance turned into a looser jam session. Saxophonist Maarten van Norden quoted Lester Young, and bassist Arjen Gorter responded with a bit of "Oh, Susannah." Finally, Raaymakers and Altenfelder indulged themselves in a few casual dance steps.