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Roelofs: Rope Dance - van Sambeek, Roelofs, de Looze, van der Feen, Vink

Roelofs: Rope Dance - van Sambeek, Roelofs, de Looze, van der Feen, Vink

BIS  BIS 2453

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Roelofs: Beware the Buffoon!, Sweet Superman, Rope Dancer, Are Your Feet Light Enough?, If You Gaze Long into an Abyss…, Off Balance, Eternal Recurrence, …The Abyss Will Gaze Back into You, The Master Can't Dance, The Convalescent, The Laughing Child

Bram van Sambeek (bassoon)
Joris Roelofs (bass clarinet and clarinet)
Bram de Looze (piano)
Clemens van der Feen (double bass)
Martijn Vink (drums)


The award-winning Dutch composer and bass clarinet player Joris Roelofs is also currently working on a PhD dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche, improvisation and the notion of freedom. On the album Rope Dance he is able to combine all of this, in a suite of twelve pieces inspired by Nietzsche - 'by far the most musical of philosophers' according to Roelofs. It is especially the parable of the tightrope walker in the opening section of 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None' that has provided him with inspiration for his own 'Light-Footed Music for All and None'.

It is not surprising that Nietzsche's thoughts about free spirits, liberated from conventional constraints and belief systems, resonate particularly well with musicians working with improvisation and across genres. Roelofs has therefore been able to gather a group of highly versatile colleagues from the Benelux jazz scene to perform his music: pianist Bram de Looze, bass player Clemens van der Feen and Martijn Vink on drums. The album also confirms the multi- faceted talents of bassoonist Bram van Sambeek, following previous recordings on BIS of classical, pre- Romantic and contemporary concertos, as well as hard rock covers with the group ORBI (the Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments).

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Review by Mark Werlin - December 23, 2023

Traditional hymns, folk music and classical music themes, multi-part compositional structure, whimsical humor, and the yearning, lyrical mode of African-American jazz all play a part in clarinetist-composer Joris Roelofs’ album “Rope Dance.” The image of a tightrope walker, a traditional circus performer, implies a more recent tradition in Dutch jazz of performing improvised music in a theatrical or circus setting, a practice pioneered by clarinetist, composer and bandleader Willem Breukens.

In the late 1960s Willem Breukens resonated with the innovative sounds of bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy and tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, though he eventually broke from American jazz influences, and in the company of pianist-composer Misha Mengelberg and percussionist Han Bennink, founded the Instant Composers Pool. From the outset, the ICP struggled with internal temperamental conflicts, artistic contradictions, and contempt both towards and from the jazz and conservatory establishments. Even their radically reformed music proved artistically restrictive for Breukens. He left the ICP and formed the Willem Breukens Kollektif to perform composed suites for improvisers.

As the turbulence of the Dutch and German free jazz scenes subsided, younger musicians from northern Europe incorporated innovations of the preceding cohort into a new, distinctly regional creative music. In recent years, a contemporary jazz scene has coalesced around the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, where alumnus, clarinetist-composer Joris Roelofs teaches in the jazz department.

The music on “Rope Dance” represents an extension in sound of Roelofs' academic study of the philosopher Friedrich Nietszche, in particular, the parable of the rope dancer in “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. In the album’s liner notes commentary, Roelofs expounds on the radical philosopher’s own failed efforts at composing, his friendship with Richard Wagner, and the openness to “gazing into the abyss” that is equally the endeavor of the rope dancer and the philosopher himself.

It is not necessary to admire Nietzsche or to be student of his gnomic writing to listen with openness to the inventive music on “Rope Dancer”. Roelofs has selected as the major soloist the astonishingly accomplished bassoonist Bram van Sambeek, who appears on several BIS classical SACDs, including Mozart, Weber, Du Puy: Bassoon Concertos - van Sambeek, Ogrintchouk, Bach on the Bassoon - van Sambeek, and Fagerlund, Aho: Basson Concertos - van Sambeek, Slobodeniouk, Kamu. In the written parts and in his improvisations, van Sambeek’s technical virtuosity and his clear grasp of Roelof’s compositional intent exemplify the rope dancer’s gaze into the abyss – and his ability to cross that abyss with fearless abandon.

Veteran jazz bassist Clemens van der Feen, pianist Bram de Looze and drummer Martijn Vink hold the feet of the dancers van Sambeek and Roelofs securely to the harmonic ropes of Roelofs’ high-risk compositions. The music itself defies genre categorization: it can be heard as new creative jazz or as contemporary classical chamber music.

“Rope Dance” was recorded in 24/96 PCM at Studio 2, Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, The Netherlands, with the same attention to sonic detail as any of the best chamber music recordings from BIS in recent years. The timbres of the two woodwind instruments are rendered in vivid detail. Roelofs’ engineer Micha de Kanter uses Josephson single-point microphones, which, with careful placement, produce a deep and realistic soundstage. (Josephson microphones are used on many albums from the audiophile label Sound Liaison.)

Adventurous new music listeners are invited to step out onto the tightrope: the trip will be well-rewarded.

Copyright © 2023 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net

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