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For Your Consideration: Joris Roelofs Quartet's 'Live at The Bimhuis'

Jonathan Wertheim
Staff Writer
jon.wertheim@gmail.com / @disgruntledjazz

I have to admit something: I totally missed this album when it came out last September. It's ironic really; I devoured Dutch saxophonist and clarinetist Joris Roelofs' debut album, Introducing, back in 2008 (seriously, check it out), and have returned to it again and again, wondering each time when the follow-up would come.

Well, it's here. Fuck yeah.

Roelofs is a rare thing in the jazz world. He's unafraid of standards - and like Kurt Rosenwinkel, who has worked with (I believe) all of Roelofs' sidemen on his new album, Live At Bimhuis, unafraid of playing them straight - but he's also a very strong writer, crafting memorable and driving themes.

But that's not all. His alto tone is light and fluid, obviously exploring the sonic territory of bebop but doing so with some Lee Konitz, and even more John Handy (whose 1967 record New View! is an underappreciated classic, and, I'm sure, is in Mr. Roelofs' library).

This album is a beauty. My first impulse was to hear the band's new take on Warne Marsh's mind-blowing "Background Music", which Roelofs recorded on his first album. Aaron Goldberg was the pianist on that disc as well, and it's obvious that their previous recording history, as well as a few years of gigs, has only strengthened their chemistry. The quartet tears through the tune without sacrificing any of its lyricism or interest - it's fast for the tune's sake, not for fast's sake.

"Day Dream" could have been recorded in 1955, or 1960, yet somehow it couldn't; the quartet plays the best sounds of the golden era of jazz, but more in the manner of a speaker fluent in a second language; they have mastered a style as a vessel for their very personal ideas, as opposed to mastering it for the sake of freezing it in time, as Wynton Marsalis and others have done. (Roelofs also frees the bass clarinet from its Dolphy connotations here and on a spellbinding rendition of "My Ideal," playing it with an ease that belies the instrument's difficulty).

Goldberg is marvelous throughout; his sense of modernity laced with tradition is the perfect match for Roelofs' musical sweet spots. Bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Gregory Hutchinson (fuck yeah, right?) provide essential support throughout, and while the record belongs to the horn and piano, the drums and bass come to the fore on tunes like "Lower Space", a moody and spaciously stretchy piece.

Above all, this is a record to enjoy. From the first note to the last, Joris Roelofs and his group show us that they haven't forgotten how to make music that sounds happy, carefree, and fun as shit. In this age of self-consciously genre-bending records from the likes of Robert Glasper, or self-important discs from recent Berklee graduates, it's a breath of fresh air to hear a group playing music that hearkens back to the 1950s and 1960s - not always in its sound, but always in its celebration of the moment, and of the joy of this music we may argue about or despair of at time, but will always love.

Live at The Bimhuis is available now at iTunes and Amazon.

Jon Wertheim, a jazz writer and reviewer, writes at his jazz blog, The Disgruntled Jazz Critic, here at Nextbop, and on Twitter.

Correction: This review previously referred to Roelofs as a Danish saxophonist. This has been corrected. Joris Roelofs is Dutch, born in Aix-en-Provence (France) and raised in Amsterdam.