REVIEWS

Downbeat

On his debut as a frontman, Dutch trombonist Abelen's terse, potent compositions serve as seed bed for his band's economical improvisations, and his deft players cultivate some very special flora, indeed.
Most exciting is tenor saxist Tobias Delius, who's been on the scene awhile but doesn't care much about recording. He's got a Ben Webster/Archie Shepp sound: big, breathy, supple, able to toy most delightfully with time.
Delius is featured over pedal tones on "Delay," just before Corrie van Binsbergen breaks out with a nasty electric guitar solo. Charles Huffstadt's march drums on "Who's Next" recall Henry Threadgill's Sextet, but this group's got a wholly original sound. The leader's a fine melodist, as well, and bassist Wilbert de Joode wields an enviable high-action, matte-timbre sound.
John Corbett
Down Beat, April 1997
Eindhovens Dagblad

The playing time of this cd - ten songs in barely 42 minutes - says something about the musical intentions of Chris Abelen. The leader/trombonist of this quintet, which is of course named after him, loves pithy pieces, in which the melodic motives are obvious and clear. This implies that once improvising, the end is never too far away. These motives are like buoys for the improvisations, as well as for the shifts and changes in tempo.
This makes 'Dance Of The Penguins' an album of great clarity. Luminous in approach and performance. Chris Abelen has made a wonderful choice: Corrie van Binsbergen on guitar (listen to her many-sided qualities in 'Delay'), Tobias Delius on tenorsax, Wilbert de Joode on bass and Charles Huffstadt on drums: an unpredictable line-up.
 
 
De duur van de cd, nog geen 42 minuten voor tien nummers, zegt al iets over de muzikale intenties van Chris Abelen. De leider/trombonist van het gelijknamige kwintet houdt van korte stukken, waarin de melodische motiefjes manifest zijn verwerkt. Dat impliceert dat wanneer er wordt geïmproviseerd, het einde nooit zoekraakt. De motiefjes zijn namelijk het handvat waaraan zowel de improvisaties als de vele tempoverschuivingen en -wisselingen hangen.
Daarmee is 'Dance of the Penguins' vooral een album geworden dat helderheid uitstraalt. Helderheid in aanpak en uitvoering. Chris Abelen heeft een prachtige keuze gemaakt: Corrie van Binsbergen op gitaar (hoor haar veelzijdige kwaliteiten op 'Delay'), Tobias Delius op tenorsaxofoon, Wilbert de Joode op contrabas en Charles Huffstadt op slagwerk: een onvoorspelbare bezetting.

Rinus van der Heijden
Muse Translations: Waldemar Noë
Entr'acte

Everything about this groups music is pleasantly unconventional. While so many jazz CDs are plagued by the 70 minute plus disease, leader Chris Abelen keeps things short. A recording of 42 minutes worth of compact and intense music, and no interminable solos. The quintet is not a gang of ego tripping soloists, but rather a unit with a collective statement to make. That statement consists of swanky, often dance like music. The CD's title is a perfect choice, because while it isn't particularly elegant in an old fashioned sense, it is certainly dashing in its own way. On the other hand, Abelen's marches, like Maat 47 and Who's next, are not at all stiff; they swing. The latter's unmarchable character is reminiscent of Mauricio Kagel's Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen. This kind of orneriness demands an excellent drummer, which Abelen certainly has. In most of the cuts, Charles Huffstadt suggests a tempo rather than strictly executing it. He accompanies Wilbert de Joode's bass line in way that produces a maximum of clarity. And his solo in Who's next oozes finesse in the way it uses the melodic material from the ostinato figure played by the rest of the group under his improvisation.
 
Alles aan de muziek van deze groep is aangenaam onconventioneel. Waar zoveel andere jazz-cd's gekweld worden door het 70-minuten-en-langer-virus, houdt leider Chris Abelen het vooral kort. Een krappe 42 minuten compacte en intense muziek, en geen oeverloos soleren. Het kwintet is namelijk geen verzameling egotrippers, maar een collectief dat gezamenlijk z'n statement maakt. En die bestaat uit elegante, vaak dansante muziek. De titel van de cd is perfect gekozen, want er valt misschien niet ouderwets zwierig, maar op een geheel eigen wijze toch sierlijk te dansen. Daartegenover zijn de marsjes die Abelen schrijft, zoals 'Maat 47' en 'Who's Next,' juist weer niet stram, maar eerder swingend. Het laatstgenoemde stuk doet in z'n onmarcheerbaarheid denken aan de 'Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen' van Mauricio Kagel.
Dergelijke dwarsigheid vereist een goede slagwerker, en die heeft Abelen zeker in huis. Bij de meeste stukken suggereert Charles Huffstadt eerder een tempo dan het precies te spelen. Hij omspeelt de baslijnen van De Joode daarbij op zo'n manier dat er een grote helderheid ontstaat. En in zijn solo in 'Who's Next' laat hij horen hoe goed hij kan omgaan met de melodische gegevens uit de ostinato-figuur die de rest van het kwintet onder zijn improvisatie speelt.

Herman te Loo
Muse Translations: Jonathan Reeder
Entr'acte, April 1997
Jazzpodium

It is only since Willem Breuker that jazz from the Netherlands can be regarded as innovative or groundbreaking. The trombonist Chris Abelen, from the land of tulips, tolerance and tomatoes, has produced an album, Dance of the Penguins, that definitely falls under that heading. His music is by no means revolutionary, but the ten pieces the quintet recorded here do not simply tread the well worn paths of jazz. Instead of a piano the group employs an often biting electric guitar, which joins the trombone, tenor saxophone, bass and drums. Most of the numbers last no longer than four minutes, but that was the idea: Abelen wanted the material to remain prominent during improvisations (he says in the liner notes) and that can only work if the numbers do not last too long. The thematic material turns out comical, not to mention off the wall. The band grabs every opportunity for freedom in the short solos. Spontaneity and the joy of experimenting are foremost in these short escapades, and thus Dance of the Penguins supports the positive stereotype that in Dutch jazz everything goes, without it ever becoming dull.
Ulrich Dorges
Jazzpodium, March 1997
Muse translations: Johnathan Reeder
All Music Guide

Trombonist and bandleader Chris Abelen assembled a strange crew for Dance of the Penguins; none of the musicians are his regular bandmates, but that's half the fun of the record. Beginning with Dutch uberguitarist Corrie van Binsbergen, and including avant wild men, bassist Wilbert de Joode and tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, as well as understated amateur -- but fully competent and original -- drummer Charles Huffstadt (he's a psychiatrist by trade) and you have an ensemble who is all about the tight, brief, and riveting compositions of Abelen. Nothing here is over seven and a half minutes, and that's only one piece. Most of the works here range from just over two minutes to under four with only a pair of exceptions. The tight, rhythm-heavy jazz of Abelen is full of gorgeous lyrical ideas and harmonic principles that are generous to the entire ensemble. The length of his compositions put the heat on a soloist to make every note count -- and they do. "Matt 47" with van Binsbergen's understated yet distorted guitar comping is remarkable for how much she gets done against the saxophone and the trombone (a la Monk), and the way de Joode and Huffstadt dance around each other in negative space, neither one straying from or keeping time. "Who's Next" is a lightning rod for van Binsbergen; her spare, elegant choice of notes is nonetheless a popping electrical feast of choice arpeggio, and Delius' off-kilter note-for-note harmonic development challenges Abelen in all the right intervals. Given that the piece is a bit over five minutes, that's an eternity for this band. The closer, "Hoover," must be named for the vacuum cleaner as the ensemble playing two harmonic lines in three different pitches plays as if they were sucking all the music up from the earth. Note as the tune reaches its climax, Abelen's punch-drunk solo giving in to van Binsbergen's screaming guitar line that carries it out; it leaves the listener breathless, and, at under 40 minutes, clamoring for more.

Thom Jurek, All Music Guide
MSN Music Entertainment, All Music Guide 2005
Dance of the Penguins
Chris Abelen

Nieuwsblad van het Noorden

Few worldly matters are as elusive, yet at the same time such a source of satisfaction, as a good rhythm section. In the quintet that trombonist Chris Abelen has assembled for the CD Dance of the Penguins, drummer Charles Huffstadt and bassist Wilbert de Joode form such an inimitable combination.
Wilful but wonderfully casual, they manage to play off one another with a certain elasticity. Tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, an utterly suggestive player, has rarely lived up to his potential as confidently and colourfully as he does here. And the same goes for guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen and Abelen himself.
What makes the greatest impression, however, is the sum of these parts: this is music that demands an optimum of openness and, especially, interaction. And Abelen is without a doubt the man in charge here. With his material, the choice of musicians and the way he runs the show, Abelen proves himself to be a bandleader par excellence.

Renze de Vries
Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 3 january 1997
Muse Translations: Jonathan Reeder


Pinguindans
Weinig wereldse zaken zijn zo raadselachtig en stemmen tegelijk zo tot tevredenheid als een goede ritmesectie. In het kwintet dat trombonist Chris Abelen samenstelde voor de cd Dance of the Penguins vormen drummer Charles Huffstadt en contrabassist Wilbert de Joode zo'n onnavolgbare combinatie.
Wonderlijk losjes en eigenzinnig zitten ze op de een of andere manier met elastiek aan elkaar. Tenorsaxofonist Tobias Delius, een bij uitstek suggestief spelende blazer, kwam zelden zo trefzeker en kleurrijk uit de verf dan hier. En datzelfde geldt voor gitariste Corrie van Binsbergen en Abelen zelf.
Wat in deze muziek echter de sterkste indruk maakt, is de som van al deze delen: dit is muziek die het optimaal moet hebben van openheid en, vooral, interactie. En Abelen is daarvoor zonder mankeren de verantwoordelijke man. Met zijn materiaal, de keus van zijn musici en de manier waarop hij het proces stuurt, demonstreert hij een bandleider bij uitnemendheid te zijn.
Renze de Vries
Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 3 january 1997
NRC Handelsblad

Less than brilliant recording technique is compensated by the lively content of the album Dance of the Penguins by the Chris Abelen Quintet. Trombonist Abelen is known from his years with Willem Breuker. His quintet has no piano but rather a guitar, played by Corrie van Binsbergen. The piece Delay seems to have been written with her in mind, the only piece
that lasts for more than five minutes and one that consists mainly of an exciting prologue. Maat 47 is a rigid, pithy march, Side Effects a funky piece of collective improvisation and Hoover a cheerful final number in Caribbean style. Catchy, original compositions, instrumental exercises of an exemplary calibre. But for Nederjazz the question remains: where can these groups also strut their stuff live?

Frans van Leeuwen
NRC Handelsblad, 27 january 1997
Muse translations: Johnathan Reeder


Minder briljant in de opnametechniek maar inhoudelijk heel levendig is Dance of the Penguins van het kwintet van trombonist Chris Abelen die bij o.a. Willem Breuker speelde. Ook in deze groep weer geen piano maar opnieuw een gitaar, bespeeld door Corrie 'Brokken' van Binsbergen. Voor haar lijkt het stuk Delay geschreven, het enige stuk dat langer duurt dan vijf minuten en vooral bestaat uit een spannend voorspel. Maat 47 is een strak en pittig marsje, Side Effects een funky stukje collectieve improvisatie en Hoover een vrolijke uitsmijter in Caribische stijl. Pakkende eigen composities, instrumentale exercities van voorbeeldig niveau, de Nederjazz rest een probleem: waar mogen deze groepen zich ook live bewijzen?
Frans van Leeuwen
NRC Handelsblad, 27 january 1997
Penguin Guide to Jazz

Abelen is a great believer in less-is-more: this is a refreshingly short CD, leaving one wanting more, and the band seem reluctant to play as a group, one or other musician always dropping out to listen to the others, the quirky little tunes laid skeletally bare by their delivery, the cranky rhythms and rising-falling dynamics constantly pulling the rug out from under. Abelen himself plays a patrician-type role, his horn making melodic statements and using his rather starchy delivery to deadpan the group's more cartoonish moments. Delius, who can play in any style, is the singular voice, and the others play with a conspiratorial, behind-the-hand stealth. Hard to pin down but surprisingly engrossing.
Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD - Fourth Edition - 1998
Chris Abelen TROMBONE
***(*) Dance of the Penguins BVHAAST 9608 . . . .
Trouw

Chris Abelen is a good trombonist, but certainly not the best in the Netherlands. Still, the CD Dance of the Penguins (BVHaast CD 9608), made by the Chris Abelen Quintet, is an excellent recording. Abelen, a long time trombonist with the Willem Breuker Kollektief, has worked hard on his own music and with this CD shows himself to be an able composer and inspiring bandleader.
The most important aspect of Abelen's music is that it affords the musicians the opportunity to really do something with it. It is mainly their contribution that lifts this album far above average. But these are not just any old musicians. Abelen's front line is made up of himself, Tobias Delius on the tenor sax and guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen. They are supported by bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Charles Huffstadt. With musicians of their calibre it is hard to go wrong, and they provide frequent bursts of individual sparkle. It is a pleasure to hear Van Binsbergen let loose or to noodle around in the background, as it is wonderful to experience the satisfyingly muffled playing of Delius' saxophone.
Of all the band's members, Abelen himself has the most conservative demeanour; in the past his compositions were on the conventional side and as the composer of Dance of the Penguins he is certainly no vanguard character. But he is refreshingly adventurous and very modern. Even Abelen's playing grows as a result, to the extent that he, as soloist, seldom takes the back seat to his colleagues.
Kees Polling
Trouw, 21 november 1997
Muse translations: Johnathan Reeder


Chris Abelen is een aardige trombonist, maar zeker niet een van de grootste in ons land. Toch is de cd DANCE OF THE PENGUINS (BVHaast CD 96-008), die de trombonist maakte met zijn Chris Abelen Quintet, zeer geslaagd. Op dit schijfje laat Abelen, die lange tijd in het Willem Breuker Kollektief speelde en sinsdien hard werkt aan zijn eigen muziek, zich kennen als vaardig componist en inspirerend bandleider.
Het belangrijkste van Abelens stukken is dat ze de musici de gelegenheid bieden er iets wezenlijks mee te doen. Het zijn ook vooral hun bijdragen die de muziek op deze cd ver boven het gemiddelde uit tillen. Maar het zijn dan ook niet de geringste musici, met wie Abelen in zijn kwintet werkt. In de frontlinie heeft de trombonist tenorsaxofonist Tobias Delius en gitariste Corrie van Binsbergen naast zich. En zij worden ondersteund door bassist Wilbert de Joode en slagwerker Charles Huffstadt. Met musici van hun kaliber kan er weinig mis gaan. Het is een genot om van Binsbergen uit te horen halen of op de achtergrond te horen 'pielen', zoals het ook fijn is om de saxofonist lekker omfloerst te horen spelen.
Van de musici heeft Abelen de meest conservatieve instelling. Vroeger schreef hij voor zijn groepen tamelijk conventionele muziek. Als componist is hij op "Dance of the Penguins' nog altijd geen voorhoedefiguur, maar fris avontuurlijk, en eigentijds klinken ze wel degelijk. Zelfs Abelens eigen spel groeit daar overigens door, zozeer dat hij als solist zelden voor zijn medemusici onderdoet.
Kees Polling
Trouw, 21 november 1997
Cadence

The wacky Dutch Jazz scene sports an assemblage of idiosyncratic tooters, ranging from piano whiz and wild man Misha Mengelberg to the extraordinary big band antics of Willem Breuker and his Kollektief. For such a small country, the creative juices seem to spurt and stream exponentially. Fortunately, a number of labels, most significantly BVHAAST, has documented the wide range of Holland's musical experiments, to the delight of listeners worldwide.
Trombonist Chris Abelen leads his pianoless quintet in a too short progam of quirky melodies and flex-time rhythms featuring frequently changing solo combinations. Surprisingly, though, this is a fairly conservative set, due mostly to the nature of the soloists, especially the leader.
In his customarily informative and entertaining liner notes, former Cadence reviewer Kevin Whitehead says that Abelen " ... has some of the early swagger of his early hero, Roswell Rudd...," I don't hear it, though, and while the leader's compositional and arranging skills abound, he is a weak link as a soloist. While his technique can be superior, as, for example, on "Side Effects," he is loathe to take chances, and he sticks closely to carefully constructed lines. Contrariwise, the guitarist, Corrie van Binsbergen, and especially the tenor saxophonist, Tobias Delius (who has recorded with Louis Moholo, among others), are more adventuresome and, as a consequence, more effective.
Overall, this set has the twisting, locomotive feel of Barry Altschul's classic That's Nice (Soul Note 121115), which featured a piano-less quartet with Glenn Ferris on trombone and Sean Bergin on tenor saxophone. It lacks some of the excitement of the latter, however, due perhaps to the sameness that pervades some of this CD.
Only at the end of the progam does the group hint at its potential, on both the free wheeling "Side Effects" and "Hoover." A good listen, but I'm hoping for more on Abelen's next one.
Steven A. Loewy
Cadence, July 1997
De Volkskrant

Trombonist Chris Abelen uses clearly defined rhythms and soloistically varied motives, while avoiding overzealously running the changes into the ground. Abelen is apparently fond of march rhythms, at times rigid but then suddenly shaken loose into a shuffling mark time. But there is also room for long, gliding drones or a cheerful calypso. His pieces are short and to the point, and result in a kind of ensemble music whose restless intervals and lightly dissonant colouring is reminiscent of Eric Dolphys Out to Lunch. Again a characteristic compromise between fantasy and order.
Frank van Herk
Muse translations: Johnathan Reeder
De Volkskrant, 29 november 1996
 
Liner notes by Kevin Whitehead

"This quintet is the best band for me," Chris Abelen says, "because we all have something we can't play." Huh? "People say I talk negative, but what's left is positive." Like in sculpture - the art of taking away the extraneous? "Yes. What remains is the best." The music makes the case.


Check out those track timings, more like 1960 doowop singles than jazz jams. The cd era has seen too many flabby but undernourished albums, stretching meager material over 70 minutes. Penguins is lean as rabbit, and as chewy, and for the same reason:hyperactivity. “I like pieces to be short, the two or three motives as clear as possible  so you can always hear if the theme is present in the improvisations or not. If it’s not, that could speak to the quality of the improvising, or the clarity of the material.” It’s the old jazz steeplechase with updated rules: prove yourself improvising on this material, interacting with these players.
Delius and De Joode work together a lot in several outwardbound Amsterdam bands - Eric Boeren’s, interpreting Ornette Coleman; Joost Buis’s, reviving Sun Ra; playing original music in Chris Abelen’s, in several incarnations. Corrie van Binsbergen and Charles Huffstadt come from different circles. She’s a rhythm music guitar wiz who uses an arsenal of techniques to express her musical personality not obscure it. He’s a psychiatrist by trade, takes same approach to drumming: a careful listener who lets the other person speak first. He came up in the Groningen free-funk scene with vocal acrobat Greetje Bijma, plays now with Willem van Manen’s Contraband, where bandmate Abelen took a shine to his reactive playing.
The rhythm section hadn't played together before rehearsals for this session. Way the leader talks, he wanted to disorient them bit.
(that’s Dutch: the Mengelberg Method.)” Wilbert expected the drummer to play four on the cymbal, and Charles expected walking bass” –each thought the other should keep time. Crisis? Hear them dance around each other on maat 47, or under trombone on the title track: they revolve around unstated pulse, tug against the pull of that negative space.
“ Corrie said she didn’t always know that to play on a piece. I said, ‘you don’t have to play on every bar.’ She has her own band fort hat. BOINK! And then 20 seconds of nothing. Great.” Track her through the infectious maat 47, a lesson in lessening: weaned on space crammer Zappa she takes a cue from quietist Monk. She pulls back without  sounding tentative; hear her comping behind Toby’s tenor, first solo first track, her popping notes matching his. (You hear Afro pop in there? Think she wasn’t listening when she was in Ouagadougou a few months before?)
What can’t Delius do? Play normal: respect bar lines, stick to phrases of predictable length, parse chords in obvious ways. He’s  subtle, timbrally as well as rhythmically, manipulating the tenor’s overtones from one note to next. Who knew that would work with brash electric guitar? Abelen, and now us. Their solos round each other off, complementary. “Except  for Toby on Delay and trombone and drums on Who’s Next, there were no fixed solo routines. Different people improvise in different takes, and the tempos would change so much, it was impossible to make cuts from one take to another, which I don’t mind at all. Let the pieces take their own course, and let’s see what happens.”
One reason cuts are short: players take short cuts. Horns improvise independent lines simultaneuosly on side effects, the bassist takes his ‘solo’ during the closing theme of The hall with the 7 doors. Abelen:” Wilbert’s idea, I didn't direct him at all.
One inspiration for Who’s next was early pieces by Prince, where the drums play in tempo and there’s  an open bass line; I want the bass to function like another melody instrument.” Drums too, to my ears. On Who’s Next, Huffstadt’s rhythmic tattoo functions as the melody, the trombone part as its counterline.  Hear it that way, and drums play the shortest possible theme restatement, at the end of Huffstadt’s solo, under which horns appropriate the drums’ original telegraphic line. (Shall we relate all the compactness and negative space to the players hailing from small below-sealevel Holland?)
Pithy motives do get focused response.(And some are amazingly pithy; Delay is largely structured around one sustained mote, picked up by whomever.) Delius audibly worries the melodic material; on DANCE OF THE PENGUINS van Binsbergen in her solo plays with and against the theme’s wide intervals and staccato phrases. One concession to convention:Abelen assigns himself the melody on most pieces. As he points out, trombonists always do that when they start their own band, rarely having the chance elsewhere. “But it’s also because there’s no better way for a leader and composer to direct the band: setting the tempo and number  of repeats, whether to play a theme between solos, things like that.”Fond as the composer is of staccato heads as a means to gently shape solos, Abelen the trombonist has some of the easy swagger of his early hero Roswell Rudd, coupled with his own ripe dark tone. “Should I quit?” one of his side folk asked when the recording was over. “ No, we’re just starting.” Brought up short by Abelen’s brevity? Play it again.
 
Chris Abelen Quintet
Chris Abelen - trombone
Tobias Delius - tenor saxophone
Corrie van Binsbergen - guitar
Wilbert de Joode - double bass
Charles Huffstadt - drums

Recorded by Chris Weeda,
may 1995 - Studio Le Roy, Amsterdam