Tuesday 28 May 2013

Reliving Golden Jazz Era With Benjamin Herman Trio

Alto saxophone player Benjamin Herman is a musical carnivore. He's one of those musicians that has an open mind to all kinds of genres. You can easily find him in a small jazz club, playing old standards, while the day after he's playing a club with a hip-hop band. He has so much talent and so many musical ideas, that music seems to spring from every pore in his body. That makes him one of the most versatile musicians in our country. With so many projects you can imagine that it results in several album releases every year. On his latest album Cafe Solo as the Benjamin Herman Trio, with Ernst Glerum on bass and Joost Patočka on drums, they are going back to the old jazz standards. The songs are compositions by great legends like Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter and Dexter Gordon. It turns out to be a great album, with the feel of the old days when jazz cats were rock stars, but at the same time it sounds fresh and up-to-date. I had to go to 's-Hertogenbosch to see them play. Since one of my best friends is living there, it was a good excuse to experience some great music and end it with a few beers.

Benjamin Herman Trio at De Toonzaal 's-Hertogenbosch, May 24 2013

The place to be is an old synagogue called De Toonzaal in the centre of this pleasant town in the south of The Netherlands. It has a beautiful room with a small stage that has good natural acoustics. All three musicians are sitting down, like they did during the recording sessions of Cafe Solo. It is characteristic for the whole performance, which turns out to be a relaxed and very entertaining one. Herman is chatting in between songs, giving some background information on them or treating us to a small anecdote. The only thing missing from this picture is someone serving drinks.

We get to hear many songs of the new album complemented with other standards. The musicians are in a good mood and are playing in the same relaxed way. This may result in a drum stick flying around or other imperfections, but it only adds to the great loose atmosphere. At the same time they are reinventing the songs again. I love a trio setup, since it gives every instrument a lot of freedom. With such skilled musicians this is a delight. Herman is showing why he is considered one of the best Dutch jazz musicians. He has a great sax sound, playing the notes dynamically and he knows when to let the music breath. Patočka and Glerum are a reliable rhythm section. Patočka is a creative player, constantly trying to widen the spectrum of the drum kit. This also goes for Glerum who now and then uses a bow on his bass. Even Patočka is using one on his cymbals at one point.

When you close your eyes for a moment it is almost like you're in one of those famous New York jazz clubs from over 60 years ago. Even a cliché standard like 'Summertime' sounds fresh again, despite or maybe because of the fact that they are following the original Gershwin composition. Once again Herman has impressed me with his talent and skills, not to mention his contagious enthusiasm and approach to music in general.

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