Jorrit Dijkstra | The Flatlands Collective
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The Flatlands Collective


Jorrit Dijkstra  |  alto sax, lyricon, analog electronics

James Falzone  |  clarinet

Jeb Bishop  |  trombone

Fred Lonberg-Holm  |  cello, analog electronics

Jason Roebke  |  bass

Frank Rosaly  |  drums

The Flatlands Collective brings together the remarkable Dutch alto saxophonist and composer Jorrit Dijkstra with some of Chicago’s most interesting improvisers. In Chicago, one of the most important musical cities in the US, he found a common ground in a more trans-national way of improvising, using open forms, and a looser interpretation of the American jazz tradition. Dijkstra says: ”I believe that the landscape in which you grow up has an effect on how your music sounds. This is what’s so interesting about jazz: musicians in New York, Barcelona, Moscow, Shanghai or Addis Ababa play this music, but there is always a distinctive local interpretation.” And he adds: “I called this group The Flatlands Collective after the landscape heritage I share as a Dutchman with the Chicago players.”

Dijkstra provides most of the compositions, in which he strives towards a balance between composed material, clear guidelines for musicians to improvise, and openness for the most adventurous kinds of improvisations. The group has developed a way of improvising that blends Chicago-style free jazz, texture-based minimalism, and melodic layering into an eclectic yet organically coherent repertoire. Dijkstra’s use of the Lyricon (a vintage analog wind synthesizer from the 1970s) and Fred Lonberg-Holm’s amplified cello adds an electronic touch to the rich variety of ideas, structures, and textures of the group sound. The Flatlands Collective has released their debut CD Gnomade in December 2006 on Skycap records, which has received 4 stars from Downbeat Magazine, and much critical acclaim by the international press. Their second CD Maatjes has been released on Clean Feed Records in December 2008.




Skycap Cap0035, 2007



Clean Feed CF127, 2008

Press Quotes

Review in Downbeat June 2009, by Bill Meyer *** (3 stars)

The word “maatjes” has a double meaning in Dutch, referring to mates and a raw herring dish that is a delicacy in Holland. The title captures the spirit of this ensemble, both its camaraderie and essential Dutchness. The Flatlands Collective is a quintet of Chicagoans convened by Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra. In the album’s liner notes, Dijkstra explains that while American music has impacted his own since he was a kid, that influence has been filtered through the Netherlands’ peculiar take on jazz.  The sidemen he’s selected are sufficiently attuned to improvisational developments on both sides of the Atlantic that they aren’t thrown by his everything on a plate compositional approach. Whether it’s reimagining Terry Riley-style minimalism as march music on “In D Flat Minor”, laying down soulful Sun Ra worship on “Scirocco Song” or negotiating the abrupt shifts between disciplined, downbeat swing passages and episodes of agitated improvisation on “Druil”, they render his often challenging material with vivid clarity. The American Flatlanders don’t just play Dijkstra’s tunes; they inhabit them, bearing down on a burner like “Phil’s Tesora” with the all-for-one enthusiasm of real mates. Dijkstra capitalizes on the band’s spirit by playing a splendidly gnarled alto on that track, and elsewhere his grainy, retro-futuristic electronics contrast strikingly with the cleanly executed horn charts. It adds up to a rewarding record by a band with a singular identity.

Review in, January 16 2009, by Troy Collins

Named for the geographic similarity between the American Mid-West and the Netherlands, the Flatlands Collective is a mid-sized ensemble of Chicago-based musicians operating under the leadership of Dutch saxophonist and electronics manipulator Jorrit Dijkstra. A seamless integration of nostalgic European melodies, futuristic minimalism, and spontaneous free jazz, Dijkstra’s cantilevered compositions unveil layers of detailed nuance on Maatjes, the sophomore effort of this international collective. The ensemble’s core line-up is virtually unchanged since their debut, Gnomade (Skycap, 2006). Clarinetist James Falzone, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and bassist Jason Roebke make return appearances, with drummer Tim Mulvenna replaced by Frank Rosaly. Some of the Windy City’s finest improvisers, these internationally astute Chicagoans handle Dijkstra’s mercurial Dutch aesthetic with empathetic aplomb, trafficking in a wild and wooly blend of harmonious free improvisation. Dijkstra’s multifaceted writing employs elements of free improvisation, yet generally embraces conventional tonal centers that are more melodious than dissonant. Inspired by the seminal work of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young, “Partially Overdone” and “In D Flat Minor” each explore a different aspect of the minimalist tradition. The former unfolds at a glacial pace, ushering in waves of dense, chromatic overtones. The later knits interlocking segments into a hypnotic contrapuntal theme, spotlighting the leader’s intervallic alto—enhanced by a buzzing sheet metal mute. Unveiling opulent harmonies, “Micro Mood” revels in the honeyed melodies of the old-world while “The Gate” and “Druil” each paint atmospheric tone poems; one portrays San Francisco at night, the other Dijkstra’s homeland. Exploring more assertive territory, “Phil’s Tesora” features a rousing anthem that careens with rock-like intensity over quicksilver rhythms, while the muscular dirge “Mission Rocker” vacillates in pitch and dynamics. The rambunctious improvisation “Maatjes 2” is even more intense, pitting acoustic and electric instruments against one another in a torrid bout of call and response. While all of the members of the collective make stirring contributions, it is the leader’s fervid alto and analog synthesizer that make the greatest impressions. Dijkstra pairs his Lyricon synth with Lonberg-Holm’s EFX pedals, conjuring undulating waves of feedback and crackling noise loops, most notably on the groovy Sun Ra dedication, “Scirocco Song.” Tuneful yet adventurous, Maatjes reveals the missing link between Chicago jazz and the famously capricious Dutch jazz scene. Dijkstra’s Flatlands Collective is a vision of the future of jazz, today.

Review in Downbeat August 2007, by Bill Shoemaker **** (4 stars)

By all practical measure, Jorrit Dijkstra leads the Flatlands Collective, having organized the sextet during an extended Chicago residency and composing a bit more than half of the 11 compositions on Gnomade. However, the Dutch saxophonist understands that there is no sense bringing on such distinctive composers/improvisers like trombonist Jeb Bishop without giving them a share of the franchise. Additionally, Dijkstra hears the stylistic diversity within the networks that link his cohorts, and gives it space not just to breathe, but also occasionally to snort, howl and laugh riotously. Still, the music has a discernable Dutch tinge, which is alternately audacious and austere. Dijkstra’s pieces fall into two categories: tunes that layer catchy motives and longer, piquant melodies to create push-pull rhythmic feels, and episodic pieces that range freely between open collage passages and tightly scripted ensembles. “Five to Twelve” offers a prime example of the former. Dijkstra deftly arranged the tune using saxophone and trombone to supply a jazzy bounce, and James Falzone’s clarinet and Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello for a scrappier texture. The 10-minute plus “Flank” exemplifies the latter, running the gamut from a dramatically heaving Ornette Coleman-ish theme to an engagingly astringent unaccompanied Falzone solo. The pieces by the other ensemble members have a range that complements Dijkstra’s. Bishop’s “Rabbits” has a lilting swing and bright changes, while bassist Jason Roebke’s aptly titled “Longtones” hovers like fog, slowly dissipating as the ensemble’s heat rises. This music has a lot of moving parts. Keeping them synchronized is a credit to each member of the Collective, but the exemplary tandem work of Roebke and drummer Tim Mulvenna merits special attention.

Review in Downtown Music Gallery,  26 October 2007, by  Bruce Gallanter

THE FLATLANDS COLLECTIVE [w/ JORRIT DIJSKTRA & JEB BISHOP] – Gnomade (Skycap 035; Germany) Featuring Jorrit Dijkstra on alto sax, lyricon & analog synth, Jeb Bishop on trombone, James Falzone on clarinet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jason Roebke on bass and Tim Mulvenna on drums. Dutch saxist, Jorrit Dijkstra, lives in Boston and more than a dozen discs out as a leader or collaborator on labels Songlines, Bvhaast & Geestgronden, as well as his own label Trytone. On this disc, Jorrit is collaborating with a number of musicians from Chicago. Besides his trusty alto sax, Jorrit plays a lyricon, an old electric sax-like device that adventurous saxists used in the seventies. “Wire Tap” opens with a quirky theme in which all of the frontine players swirl around one another (alto sax, clarinet, trombone and cello), playing a few ever-shifting lines. The title piece features a strange analog intro, yet soon the charted horns play their circular parts. I dig the way the bass and drums play intricate together while the rest of the players improvise in short spurts. Each piece is set-up differently, with layers of inter-connected musicians playing in different combinations, almost as is a few different songs are played at the same time. On “Five to Twelve”, the cello, bass and drums seem to playing one charted piece while the three horns play a series different combinations. Tight but loose as well. Sounds like Jorrit is cueing certain events to take place while other subgroup(s) play something else. On “Flank” Jorrit leads the other horns in a slightly bent chorus twisted harmonies, it eventually quiets down so that the clarinet can take a long solo that evolves through other sections building back up to a swell swirling conclusion. Even the sparse, free-ish “Amp Doodler” seems to have some charted or directed focus, nothing is haphazard or what it may seem. When you least expect it, a song with a sly melody like “Rabbits” appears and gives the clarinetist a chance to solo at length, while everyone else swirls tightly around him. “Longtones” is a haunting, slow-moving work that features the cello and bass playing cerebral drones with some splendid mallet work by Mulvenna and dream-like horns floating on top. “The 4:08” sounds like one of those intense trombone-led songs on the recent Basement Research CD, when it begins, but soon breaks down into fragmented cello insanity. Each piece on this great disc is filled with surprising twists and turns and unique combinations of players and directions. Quite a wonderful offering! – BLG

Article in by Peter Margasak, January 2008

Jazz: The Flatlands Collective Jorrit Dijkstra seems to want musical projects in every port of call, and the Flatlands Collective is the group that joins him in America’s Midwest, a fine crew with some of Chicago’s best players that certainly exude some Dutch flavour. Most of the musicians—clarinetist James Falzone, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Mulvenna—contribute tunes, so the group’s excellent debut album Gnomade (Skycap) bristles with variety. What makes the music cohere is the attention given to the arrangements, and how they encourage, propel and interact with the improvisations. Traces of many disparate traditions converge, from delicate chamber music to airy West Coast jazz and even Dixieland, but rather than deliver some glib post-modern mash-up, the various ingredients are present thanks to their emphasis on group interplay. Even when Dijkstra takes centre-stage his fluid lines on both the alto-saxophone and the Lyricon—an analogue wind synth from the ’70s—are cajoled and caressed spontaneously by other members.

Recensie in door Johan Vandendriessche 13/09/2007

Jorrit Dijkstra (1966) is een afwisselend in Chicago en Amsterdam verblijvende en spelende altsaxofonist en Lyriconspeler die studeerde bij Misha Mengelberg, Steve Coleman, Steve Lacy en Lee Hyla, en daarna met o.m. Anthony Braxton, Gerry Hemingway, Marty Ehrlich, Herb Robertson, Barre Phillips, Marc Ducret, John Butcher, Willem Breuker en Guus Janssen optrad. Hij kreeg in 1998 een beurs om te studeren en daarna ook les te geven aan het New England Conservatory in Boston. The Flatlands Collective bestaat verder uit James Falzone (klarinet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Jason Roebke (contrabas) en Tim Mulvena (drums). The Flatlands Collective brengt muziek die enerzijds vrij is, dus met vrije improvisatie, maar ook met heel wat compositie. Jorrit toont in zijn spel de invloeden van Paul Desmond, John Zorn, en natuurlijk Ornette Coleman (de godfather van de freejazz). Hij maakt zeer dankbaar, maar spaarzaam gebruik van analoge synthesisers, en van de lyricon, een ding dat ongeveer als een saxofoon wordt bespeeld, en een analoge synthesiser aanstuurt. Daarmee werkt hij zeer smaakvol en vaak valt het zelfs niet op dat hij daarmee aan het spelen is. De meeste composities zijn van Dijkstra zelf, en het geheel is enerzijds duidelijk schatplichtig aan het oeuvre van Ornette Coleman, maar toont anderzijds een meer esthetiserende, “blanke” tendens, die ons wat meer aan sommige Europese avant-garde doet denken. Het ensemble speelt mooi, maar mocht soms wat energieker uit de hoek komen. De muziek en de mixing is misschien wel een beetje vlak, alhoewel ene Howard Reich in The Chicago Tribune moet geschreven hebben over deze band: “…anything but flat.”

Recensie in door Koen van Meel, januari 2008

De Nederlandse saxofonist Jorrit Dijkstra is actief in Amsterdam, Boston en Chicago. Deze laatste stad is de thuishaven van zijn Flatlands Collective, de band waarvoor Dijkstra zich omringt met vijf Amerikaanse musici, waaronder trombonist Jeb Bishop en cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. De aanwezigheid van deze laatste zorgt, samen met de klarinet van James Falzone en de altsax van Dijkstra zelf, voor een lichte sound die geschraagd wordt door drummer Tim Mulvenna en bassist Jason Roebke. Op enkele tracks vult Dijkstra dit geluid aan met een analoge synthesizer of lyricon, maar deze elektronische klanken lijken geen essentieel bestanddeel voor het verhaal van het Flatlands Collective. De bezetting van de groep leent zich tot het uitwerken van een groepsgeluid dat duidelijk primeert op de individuele ambities van de muzikanten. Ook in geïmproviseerde passages klinkt een grote samenhang door en laat het Flatlands Collective zich horen als een hechte band en niet als een reeks solisten. Een gelijkaardige benadering is terug te vinden in het repertoire dat balanceert tussen uitgeschreven composities en improvisatie waarbij de grens tussen de twee bij momenten vervaagt. De combinatie van het groepsgevoel en de muzikale souplesse stelt het collectief in staat om veel verschillende settings opzoeken. Zo kan de groep met de circushoempa van ‘The 4:08’ of struinende gezelligheid van ‘Dipje’ heerlijk speels voor de dag komen. In ‘Mute’ klinken Dijkstra en Bishop dan weer als twee naast elkaar kwekkende tienermeisjes, waarbij een klankverandering bij de ene meteen een gelijkaardige reactie uitlokt bij de andere. In andere stukken wordt dan weer met tijd en ruimte gespeeld. De dissonante samenklanken van het breed openliggende ‘Slitch’ doen denken aan hedendaagse klassieke muziek en in ‘Longtones’ vormen de flexibele basriff en de lange noten van de andere muzikanten een soundscape die niet in een vaste vorm wil kruipen. De stukken die het meeste indruk maken zijn echter diegenen waarin de muziek verschillende gedaanten aanneemt en waarbij het uitgeschreven element duidelijk naar voor komt: Dijkstra’s ‘Wire Tap’, ‘Flank’ of ‘Five to Twelve’ met het huppelende thema en de hoekige gestapelde ritmes. Het meest expliciete voorbeeld is ‘Rabbits’ van Jeb Bishop. De uitgeschreven swing plooit terug op een klarinetsolo waar de anderen geleidelijk aan bijschuiven om zo over te gaan in een collectieve improvisatie. Wanneer Dijkstra vervolgens het voortouw neemt wordt hij begeleid door een hard strijkende Lonberg-Holm die zo, zuiver akoestisch, voor een distortioneffect zorgt. Wanneer deze laatste strijkend en plukkend op de voorgrond komt en later in duo speelt met Roebke wordt het klankbeeld weer lichter, de ideale opstap naar een terugkeer van het hoofdthema. Een van de weinige muzikale spectra die het Flatlands Collective niet opzoekt is dat van de zuivere muzikale krachtexplosie. Naar het einde van ‘Flank’ lijkt de groep even daarop af te stevenen, maar Roebke’s bas volgt de toenemende animositeit niet. Dit mag en kan de pret op het album ‘Gnomade’ echter niet drukken: Dijkstra’s muziek en muzikanten hebben immers meer dan genoeg in huis om de afwezige rauwe energie te compenseren.

Recensie in door Tim Sprangers, januari 2008

Flatlands Collective is totaal niet vlak. Bimhuis Amsterdam, Flatlands Collective, 10 januari 2008. beeld: Thomas Huisman. door: Tim Sprangers Hangend tussen Amerika en Nederland vond saxofonist Jorrit Dijkstra in Chicago muzikanten die zijn visie deelden. Grenzen worden opgezocht: wanneer verliest muziek zijn spanning? Wat is de ideale balans tussen compositie en improvisatie? Dijkstra is er van overtuigd dat er een hoger niveau wordt bereikt als de musici een andere bodem van opvoeding en inspiratie hebben. De interpretatie van muziek is afhankelijk van de afkomst van iemand. Flatlands Collective heeft, buiten Jorrit Dijkstra zelf, vijf leden die zich in Chicago hebben ontplooid. Het gemeenschappelijke tussen Chicago en Nederland is dat beide geen noemenswaardig gebergte bevatten; zie hier de verklaring van de naam van de band. Het optreden stond bol van spanning. Stukken zaten weliswaar logisch en gebalanceerd in elkaar, elk nummer had iets geheimzinnigs. Tonen en melodieën werden lang uitgerekt en het collectief wankelde op de scheidingslijn tussen spannend en saai. Het is goed te begrijpen dat sommige luisteraars het niet trokken en de zaal verlieten of in lachen uitbarsten. Meegezogen werd je niet zomaar; hiervoor moest het publiek zich overgeven aan de optiek van het collectief. Het meest opvallende nummer was geïnspireerd op het geluid van waarschuwende misthoorns. Hierin zocht de groep naar geluiden die naar hun gevoelens het best konden verwoorden. Het resulteerde in een absurdistische en minimalistische soundscape. Chaotisch zou je denken. Het nummer straalde echter eenheid en harmonie uit: alle musici uitten zich weliswaar op verschillende wijzen, ze deelden één gemeenschappelijke visie en voelden elkaar bovendien perfect aan. Extra dimensie aan het optreden gaf Dijkstra met zijn lyricon. Met deze elektronische klarinet uit de jaren zeventig produceerde de Amerikaanse Hollander soms verontrustende en dan weer lieve, sciencefictionachtige tonen. Het analoge instrument is in de vergetelheid geraakt. In het interview met Vera Vingerhoeds bij aanvang van de tweede set zei Dijkstra dit te betreuren. Hij roemde de voordelen van analoog ten opzichte van digitaal. Het geluid van de lyricon is het best te vergelijken met een synthesizer. Het doel van Dijkstra om met zijn lyricon het groepsgeluid meerdere lagen te geven, verwezenlijkte hij zonder twijfel: het is altijd opwindend om nieuwe geluiden bij een toch al onconventionele samenstelling van instrumenten toe te voegen. Flatlands Collective bestaat namelijk uit drie blazers, een contrabassist, cellist (met effecten) en een drummer. James Falzone (klarinet) en Jeb Bishop (trombone) hadden leuke conversaties. De intens zware tonen van Bishop contrasteerde heerlijk met de vrolijkheid die geregeld klonk uit de klarinet van Falzone. Een contrabassist en een cellist kunnen elkaar ongewild onderdrukken maar dit deden Jason Roebke (cb) en Fred Lonberg (c) totaal niet. Roebke onderscheidde zich door zijn degelijkheid en Lonberg door zijn creatieve omgang met zijn instrument. Hij loopte zichzelf geregeld en vervormde zijn producties met onrustige effecten. Drummer Frank Rosaly had een lekkere sound. Hij was fel en bijzonder oplettend. Hoewel een drummer vaak de maat bepaalt, reageerde Rosaly nu zelf op bijvoorbeeld korte melodielijnen van Dijkstra en bouwde er een groove omheen. Lege thema’s vulde hij prettig en sferisch op. Dijkstra heeft met zijn Flatlands Collective een bijzondere band op vele vlakken. Stukken zijn vaak lang, uitgerekt en zeer verkennend, maar het komt de spanning alleen maar ten goede. Facetten als de lyricum en de effecten van de cellist maken het collectief interessant. Vlak is Flatlands Collective totaal niet. Recensie in Eindhovens Dagblad 16-1-08 Door René van Peer MUZIEK Dijkstra feestelijk onvoorspelbaar. Voormalig Eindhovenaar Jorrit Dijkstra heeft in The Flatlands Collective musici om zich heen verzameld die hechtheid en solistische eigenzinnigheid in zich verenigen. Afgelopen maandag speelde het sextet rond deze altsaxofonist bij Jazzpower een concert vol feestelijke onvoorspelbaarheid. Uiterst trage meerstemmige melodieën konden in een oogwenk omslaan in volkomen vrije improvisaties waarin ieder een eigen weg insloeg en in een handomdraai weer de gelederen sloot. Door de bezetting van klarinet, trombone, saxofoon en een ritmesectie van drums en bas (en een cello als vreemde eend in de bijt) kon je nog denken dat je van doen had met een eigentijdse draai aan het Dixieland-orkest. Maar vanaf de eerste toon hoorde je hoe ze een volstrekt eigen terrein verkenden en vorm gaven. Vanuit collectief samenspel stoven ze uiteen, gaven ze hun fantasie alle ruimte in solo’s die zowel lyrisch als bizar konden zijn. Een knip met de vinger liet de samenhang compleet verdampen; een knik van Dijkstra’s hoofd bracht iedereen bliksemsnel weer bij elkaar. Ook sfeervolle stukken stonden op het menu, zoals een compositie gebaseerd op misthoorns voor de kust van San Francisco. Lange tonen van de verschillende instrumenten wisselden elkaar af, met de klanken van een steeds verder gedemonteerde klarinet zonder mondstuk als verbazingwekkend middelpunt. Bijna ongemerkt vormden ze zachte, warme akkoorden, waar de klarinet doorheen golfde. Tegen het eind lieten ze horen dat ze ook zonder voorbehoud konden swingen. In halsbrekende melodieën leken ze een steile muzikale helling af te rollen, onstuitbaar hotsend en botsend als flinke keien. Het speelplezier straalde van het zestal af, en het publiek liet zich daarin van harte meeslepen. Concert The Flatlands Collective rond Jorrit Dijkstra. Gezien op maandag 14 januari bij Jazzpower in Café Wilhelmina, Eindhoven.

Review in Jazz Thing,  September 2007, by  Wolf Kampmann

Der Name des holländischen Saxofonisten Jorrit Dijkstra ist relativ neu auf dem Improv-Parkett. Doch gerade er hat die Zeichen erkannt und mit Flatlands Collective eine Band aufgestellt, die von mehreren Ebenen aus agiert – vor allem Holland und Chicago. Zu den bekannteren Musikern des Projekts gehören Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm und die Vandermark-Mitstreiter Jeb Bishop und Tim Mulvenna an Posaune und Drums. Beim ersten Kontakt mag die CD “Gnomade” (Skycap/Rough Trade) ein wenig spröde klingen, doch man hört sich schnell in die eklektisch verbindlichen Klangtrips ein. Vor allem, wenn Dijkstra ein analoges Lyricon (Wind Synthesizer) auspackt, wird es exotisch. Das Flatlands Collective erfindet den Free Jazz nicht neu, fügt ihm aber mit bewährten Mitteln eine unverkrampfte Haltung hinzu.

Review in, June 2, 2007, by Andrey Henkin

[…] Lonberg-Holm and Roebke go from this peaceful scene to Gnomade, the inaugural album of Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra’s The Flatlands Collective. The group brings Dijkstra together with several of Chicago’s accomplished modern improvisers. In addition to Lonberg-Holm and Roebke (who replaced original member Kent Kessler), also on hand are Tim Mulvenna (drums), James Falzone (clarinet) and trombonist Jeb Bishop (the man Lonberg-Holm replaced in the Vandermark 5, though their relationship goes back much further. In addition to alto sax, Dijkstra also plays lyricon and analog synthesizer. Gnomade can be ascribed all the usual adjectives: angular, abstract, quirky. Like Terminal Valentine, the most compelling feature are the melodies, jaunty little things (by everyone but Mulvenna) that allow for delicious textures that sound at once modern and very nostalgic. Though there are several authors, there is an aesthetic unity, an appealing feel across all the tracks, especially in some of the punch rhythms. This is the music of the country fair, the slightly off-kilter roller coaster, the barker asking passers-by to test their strength. It is like cotton candy: big, colorful and sticks to your face.

Review in Cadence Magazine, June 2007, by David Kane

[…] I also recommend the Flatlands Collective offering that constitutes [Gnomade]. Refreshingly, although the music here frequently skirts the frayed edge of the irrational, there is a pervasive sense of joy throughout much of Gnomade and the performers are clearly enjoying themselves. I enjoyed it too—the music is infectious—and, despite the humor, I recognized and appreciated the serious creativity and the exploratory, progressive stance the group has staked out. In this, they are aided in no small part by the compositions that are contributed by the group members in true collective fashion. As with the writing, the performers are first rate with nary a weak link in the bunch though I was particularly impressed with Bishop’s trombone and also the tune he co-wrote with Dijkstra, “Mute” whose oddly percolating texture made my ears stand up and take notice. This is not music you’re likely to ever encounter on a supermarket speaker and perhaps that’s a good thing for your average shopper, but it was the best “new” music CD I reviewed this month and if my local Safeway were a bit hipper I’d find more excuses to hang out there. This CD will be a worthwhile listen for those of you among us who have the appropriate constitution for this particular brand of quirky improvised music.

Review in, October 5, 2007, by Ken Waxman

Clarinetist James Falzone and percussionist Tim Mulvenna plus a cellist and a double bassist are the connective strands of these two sessions recorded four month apart in Chicago, although each is unique in many ways. The Sign and the Thing Signified is most notable for exposing the compositional and playing talents of Falzone. However, appreciation for the 13 tracks delineated in barely 41 minutes, depends on the listener’s tolerance for chamber-improv assayed by bassoon, viola, cello and bassist Brian Dibble as well as Falzone and Mulvenna. Gnomade’s compositions are suppler and offer more surprises than those on the other CD. One reason may be that seven of the 11 tunes are by Jorrit Dijkstra, a talented composer and player who divides his time between the U.S. and his home country of the Netherlands. Playing alto saxophone, lyricon and analog synthesizer here, Dijkstra is joined by Falzone and Mulvenna plus modern gutbucket specialist trombonist Jeb Bishop, solid bassist Jason Roebke and versatile cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm – all of whom are among the Windy City’s first-call improvisers. Perhaps the legit background of Falzone, who teaches courses in music theory, composition, and world music and is music director of Grace Chicago Church also contributes to his solo CD’s solemnity – at least compare to the Flatlands’ disc. Similarly one of the disc’s most arresting performances is a motet-like recasting of a line from an opera by 17th Century British composer Henry Purcell. Whether it adds more or less fuel to that legit/improv equation, “The 4:08”, Flazone’s composition on Gnomade, is, in contrast, a stop-time outing that moves from allegro to staccatissimo and back again. Replete with false climaxes and head recaps, the tune features near-Dixieland clarinet riffs and punk-rock-like slashing cello screeds in the centre of contrapuntal call-and-response vamps. Throughout, Falzone’s legato inflections translate successfully into fluid lines which add to the overall gestalt by unambiguously contrasting with Bishop’s gritty slide expansions and guttural snorts, as well as Dijkstra’s sharp split tones and intense, jagged lines. Instrumental placement and arrangement also gives the tracks three-dimensional timbral protuberances, that vary according to the musical make up. For instance, “Rabbits” is a simple Freebop swinger. Composed by Bishop, it starts off with the clarinetist’s flutter tonguing on top of rhythmically airy bass and drums as contrapuntal trombone and alto lines move around him. After a thematic shift to the alto saxophone and before the head is recapped by plunger trombone and clarinet glissandi, Roebke explores cross plucking and resonating strokes in his solo, while the cellist splatters tones as if he’s playing rock-guitar. Dijkstra’s “Dipje” unfolds with a vaudeville-like rhythmic tap dance created by Mulvenna’s rim shot and wooden stick nerve beats. Harmonized horns plus occasional vibrating pulsation from the reedist’s synthesizer find the backing varying from outer-space splashes to mellow harmonics, as the alto’s lyrical cadences carry the tune. More dissonant, “Flank” varies its tonal centre as grace notes from the trombone create slurry pitches on which sharp saxophone obbligatos are displayed. Rappelling down the scale with repeated aviary split tones, Dijkstra’s gritty vibrations dissolve into nearly inaudible percussion squeaks and rubs plus slinky, squeaky trills. Concluding with a thick carpet of echoing and descending tones, drum rumbles and pops guide the theme to a finale. Freed from obvious swinging and time-keeping, percussionist Mulvenna performs a different role on The Sign and the Thing Signified. He supplies the rhythmic impetus, potentially compromised by Katherine Young’s bassoon, Amy Cimini’s viola and Kevin Davis’ cello. With the three more colorists than soloists, the most memorable use of the bassoon’s distinctive textures occur on “A Cord of Thee Strands … broken”. Here the serpentine double-reed tone introduces a composition whose inflections also encompass Arabic-styled percussion ruffs, rhythmic ground bass pattering and rococo echoes from the other strings. A half-march beat and the reintroduced theme played by bassoon and clarinet in counterpoint complete the references. More multi-faceted – and decidedly more satisfying than the seven two-minutes-or-less scene setters – is the more-than-nine-minute “Akrasia”. A challenging exposition which provides the date’s most winning use of varied musical motifs, it also reveals as many musical references as a database. Episodic, it unfolds gradually, as gamelan-like temple-bell resonation shatters the introductory silence. Soon, Falzone’s clarinet explodes into a paroxysm of stylized runs, arching over the strings that are playing in triple counterpoint with one another. Young carries the melody again, but her horizontal reading is continuously interrupted by sweeping clarinet trills and vibrated cymbals. Sul ponticello viola and cello scrapes, rhythmic arco bass lines and percussion ruffs and rattles lead first to clarinet overblowing with extended pauses, then to a bassoon-led episode resembling an ecclesiastical procession. Having touched on a multitude of classical music eras, the tune wraps up with a combination Spanish motif and Klezmer line outlined with rattling cymbals. It’s a credit to the clarinetist’s arranging skill that “Dido’s Lament,” adapted by the clarinetist from Purcell’s opera, sounds no less modern than the other compositions. An adagio nocturne expressed portamento by the strings, it continues in march time once zart drumming and the clarinetist’s cawing split tones enter the mix. Summation is a beautifully harmonized coda. Proving elsewhere that his solo clarinet voicing also encompasses Jimmy Giuffre-like intervallic leaps, the CD serves as an exceptional showcase for Falzone’s. As a first effort it’s commendable, but fewer longer tracks would have served him better. Overall though, Falzone’s contributions to Gnomade make that CD a memorable outing, and suggest further framing and organizing of his own work may allow him to create a date similar to the other CD in the future.

Review in Signal to Noise #46: Summer 2007, by Andrew Choate

The Flatlands Collective is a sextet of mostly Chicago jazz musicians assembled by Dutch alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra. His explicit interest in incorporating “free jazz, game pieces, graphic score readings, texture-based minimalism and melodic layerings” into compositions is evidenced more often than not by patching different kinds of music side by side one another, rather than integrating the different approaches into full, fluid compositions. That said, the stiffness of this patching isn’t necessarily the fault of the players or the composers (Dijkstra wrote 6 tunes, the other 5 are by the other members) – it’s somewhere in the middle, and there’s still some excellent stuff on this disc. “Dipje”, the last track, is a crushingly great groove – so mellow and so rich. Dijkstra plays the Lyricon analog wind synthesizer on this cut, shooting little darts right into the heart of the groove’s open ends and downbeats. A little development of the groove would have been nice – the track is almost six minutes long – but it’s a cool piece. Clarinettist James Falzone’s composition “The 4:08” explores Carl Stalling-like buoyance and feet footed fun. The rhythm section of Jason Roebke on bass and Tim Mulvenna on drums usually take a backseat to the carefully considered wind instrument lines of Dijkstra, Falzone and trombonist Jeb Bishop, occasionally to opportune ends, like their bolstering of hugeness of the three separate wind lines on “Rabbits.” Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello is regrettably, underutilized (and undermixed) throughout.

Review in Dusted Magazine, April 23, 2007, by Bill Meyer

Jorrit Dijkstra is Dutch, but if you listen to about three seconds of the first track you’ll peg Gnomade as a Chicago record. The opening track “Wire Tap’s” snappy elastic pulse, colorful harmonies, and bubbling brass commentary all sound like something out of the Vandermark 5’s songbook circa Simpatico, and that’s not just because two men (trombonist Jeb Bishop and drummer Tim Mulvenna) who played on that record are present here. In fact, every musician besides the leader is a member of the city’s post-AACM, non-mainstream, jazz and improv scene (stick that on a bumper sticker, kids). But more importantly, Dijkstra seems to have come prepared to engage with the locale’s musical identify; his own compositions give the players plenty of chances to do what they’ve done before in the 5, the Valentine Trio, the Lucky 7s, and various other ensembles. The other writers in the band also contribute pieces that lay out significant facets of the Chicago sound. The way the astringent string and reed voicings in cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm’s “Alp Doodler” alternately melt and harden show how people around here aren’t afraid to drink from the late classical well, while bassist Jason Roebke’s “Longtones” shows how well those same elements mix with a melancholy, noir-jazz vibe. Bishop’s “Rabbits,” more bouncy than horny, represents the strongly tuneful yet historically attuned side that has led old Ellington lovers and indie-rock fans to compete for folding chairs in the same smoke-begrimed (but not for much longer) bars. Clarinetist James Falzone’s “The 4:08” is a highlight; it actually has more vigor and fire than anything else I’ve heard the guy do. So where is Dijkstra in all this? On alto saxophone, he’s not an especially distinctive soloist; his most personal touches come in the electronic tones that subtly intensify the colors of the orchestrated passages and enliven the free-fall exchanges. That he accomplishes this with a lyricon, a wind-triggered synth I associated with Tom Scott and odious ’70s fusion, is especially impressive.

Concert Review in the Chicago Tribune December 9, 2005. By Howard Reich, Tribune arts critic.

Breaking the mold Flatlands Collective, Kneebody spin jazz in opposite directions Like fire and ice, the two emerging bands that played Wednesday night at HotHouse hardly could have been more diametrically opposed. Yet despite stylistic differences, they shared at least one critical trait: Each was determined to toss jazz convention to the winds and did so with unmistakable eloquence. Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra created the Flatlands Collective not long after he moved to to the U.S. in 2002 and began collaborating with Chicago musicians. But if the Midwest’s topography inspired the name of the band, it had scant effect on the nature of Dijkstra’s music, which was anything but flat. Richly textured, subtly nuanced and built on multiple layers of melody, the music of the Collective merged the free-thinking nature of the Chicago avant-garde with elements of contemporary European classical composition. Much of this music suggested an intensely cerebral exercise, with carefully engineered stop-start rhythms, delicate dabs of electronically produced sound and a nearly complete avoidance of a straightforward beat. When the band ventured into the occasional swing passage, one was startled to hear it, since practically everything else about this ensemble steered clear of the jazz mainstream. If at first the music sounded so diffuse and muted as to lack coherence, before long the repertoire became more lucid and structured (or did our ears simply become adjusted to its aesthetic?). The other-worldly hums and drones that Dijkstra produced on lyricon, which might be described as a kind of digital clarinet wired to a computer, were answered by pungent bursts of dissonance from the rest of the band in a piece titled “Slitch.” And in the last work of the set, “Dipje,” the band produced the exquisite blends of instrumental color one might sooner expect from a classical chamber ensemble. In the end, the Flatlands Collective linked the intellectual firepower of the Dutch free-jazz scene with the instrumental virtuosity of some of Chicago’s most accomplished creative improvisers, including trombonist Jeb Bishop and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Though the band still must be considered a work-in-progress, it deserves respect for the unorthodox musical direction it’s pursuing. If the Flatlands Collective aimed for a studious brand of jazz, the comparably adventurous Kneebody–making its Chicago debut–strove for a much more visceral, accessible, beat-driven sound. Though not exactly dance music, the band’s rock-tinged backbeats, back-to-basics riffs and motor-rhythm passages suggested it was playing for an audience that approaches jazz from a pop perspective. Even so, there was much more here than a casual listening might suggest. Just when the band seemed to be sinking into a rhythmic groove, it sabotaged expectations by changing or suspending its tempo or meter. And by juicing up its acoustic work with keyboard electronics and other computer-processed sound, Kneebody italicized its every gesture. Some of the most impressive work came from keyboardist Adam Benjamin, who produced a galaxy of space-age sound, while trumpeter Shane Endsley and tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel formed a taut and muscular front line.