Band camp Jazz Pick - Jan. 2018

A gospel for those consigned to cubicle life, Chris Abelen’s new album captures the angst and ennui of the career office employee. The trombonist’s octet maintains a whimsical tone throughout, but nothing about the lyrics give the impression of irony. The vocal delivery of Lorena del Mar creates an intriguing tonal contrast between the delivery of the lyrics and their meaning, an effect amplified by some lovely harmonic work between trumpet, trombone, alto and baritone saxophones. Minus the choir, this project has a lot of similarities to that of Max Andrzejewski´s HÜTTE and The Homegrown Organic Gospel Choir treatise to the love of food… a Bandcamp Jazz pick from back in the day.
-Dave Sumner - Febr. 2018

Chris Abelen is a Dutch jazz trombonist, composer and bandleader. Abelen started his professional career as a member of the Willem Breuker Kollektief band. When he left this band in 1988 he started his own forming his own bands. All compositions for these bands were, and are, written by Abelen, from jazz quartet to big-band arrangements. Chris has just recently released a 22 track album project, entitled “Songs on the eve of dismissal”. The album is divided into two sets of instrumental and vocal pieces. One set has nine vocal tracks, which features the voice of Lorena del Mar. The interesting, and most distinguishing element, about this album – apart from the music – is that the narrative has at its core, the theme of working in an office, and all its connected situations and emotions. In music as in many other art forms, everything done, has always been done before in some other way. I have to say that I have never come across an entire project, in all of my lifetime based entirely on this subject.

And it’s not treated superficially either, as Chris Abelen himself considers “Songs on the eve of dismissal”, an extremely serious endeavor. So much so that he is busy working on a theatrical adaption of the project. So what does it sound like? Well if translation of office work into sound was like this album, I would be tempted to go there every day!
There was a time when melodic music was not especially fashionable with hard-liner jazz fans. “Too lightweight,” “white-key jazz,” “commercial pop-jazz” were some of the less offensive descriptions that were applied. Those labels have long gone, as jazz has expanded and contaminated a series of other genres. And now Chris Abelen takes it another step further, into the concept album and modern day musical opera era.
Genius or madness? Only time will tell. For now just sit back and listen to a master musician and composer apply his craft in a very accessible manner for even non-jazz fans. The vocal melodies and Lorena del Mar in particular infuse the underlying jazz instrumentation, and stunning brass section, with plenty of smooth Pop power to satisfy any set of ears. It’s all held together by a common musical motif. So the album strives to be cohesive.
It’s like a well-written essay, where there’s a clear thesis and the ideas line up nicely from track one. The interplay between the musicians, the moods cast in every piece, the honor paid to the narrative, the rarity of everyone in top form, and Abelen’s beautiful  trombone that dwells around in the atmosphere of each piece, makes this a choice part of anyone’s modern music collection.

Chris Abelen creates a perfect sound balance between the acoustic substance of the brass section, the double bass, and the electric guitar. While he also leaves ample space for the drum moods and instrumental solos, which in an offering of this type requires careful arranging if to avoid over-exuberant, pretentious and over long songs.
The result is an accomplished and artistically mature recording. In an album of this nature, choosing singular tracks becomes an arduous and superfluous task.  As either musically or vocally, each song harbors elements that that make them more enjoyable or more outstanding.
For example, I adore the brass arrangements and their execution on “Off-Site Weekend” and “Out Of The Box”. I also thoroughly enjoyed the saxophone on “Honey Text Me Back”. Well, at least as much as I liked the drum work on “Nobody Told Me”, and the guitar on “At Home”.
So you see songs in themselves are subjective, but what impresses anybody overall, is the entirety of this project – its vision and its scope – which goes well above jamming a couple of songs and improvising over the top. And from what I can gather, Chris Abelen has not even finished with the “Songs on the eve of dismissal” project yet!
Liner Notes for Chris Abelen: Songs on the eve of dismissal
By Victor L. Schermer, Senior Staff Writer, All About Jazz

Album Details:
Chris Abelen Music Productions ‎– CAMP 008
CD, Album; Netherlands
Release date: 15 Jan 2018
Genre: Jazz, Pop
Style: Vocal, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, Modal

This album is the second part of a larger project spearheaded by Dutch trombonist, band leader, and entrepreneur Chris Abelen that includes the previously issued CD,
A Day at the Office. Taken together, the two recordings consist of a musical journey through the modern corporate office, an unlikely musical theme but one which speaks directly to the lives of the many who experience a wide range of emotions in the course of their work day.

Abelen is noted for his readiness to take chances and move to the edge of what is happening. In this album, the risk he takes is to join with lyricist Bastiaan Geleijnse in producing a song cycle about the existential situation of the corporate workplace, with its alienation and ennui, which was already critiqued in another era by Marx, Kierkegaard, Durkheim, and others, but became magnified with the resurgence of corporate greed and a cybernetic view of the employee as a replaceable piece of software. In this respect, the album is a testament to “Generation X” born after the baby boomers, who were disaffected and directionless in jobs of uncertain duration. It is also relevant in a different way for Millennials who have entered into the work force with unrealistic expectations, often leading to disillusionment. Pop and rock music contains strains of these struggles, but this is, so far as I know, the first jazz-infused album of songs that lament the plight of the office worker during these heady times.

The album is also unique in that it’s more than a “theme” album: It’s a “concept” album, taking on in depth and detail a subject that is rarely given musical form, except in rare Broadway shows like
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The words and music of Songs on the eve of dismissal convey a genuine sense of what it’s like to invest in a job in which you hardly know what’s expected of you and in which you are regarded by your employer as a replaceable part. Although unique, it follows a tradition in jazz, rock and funk, of allusions to personal and societal dilemmas and conflicts. The blues itself laments our suffering while at the same time providing a healing balm for it. Folk songs like “John Henry” sing of the sadness of the laborer (“he put down his hammer and he died…”) The more modern little known jazz tune, Bob Dorough’s “A Small Day Tomorrow,” is about trading “all of those big wheels with all of their big deals” for a weekend “drop out and copout.” This album takes up such themes of workplace blues in a full-blooded, full-throated way, probing the emotional life of a woman (whose words are sung beautifully by Lorena del Mar) who is going lose a meaningless job that is paradoxically the only meaning she’s got. Psychoanalysts, take out your notebooks!

Surprisingly, though, rather than sending you into a spiral of depression, the music is very listenable and enjoyable. Del Mar sings with the litheness of the vocalists of the swing era. To accompany her, Abelen brought together a septet consisting of himself (a well-heeled master trombonist) with younger, mostly Dutch and German players (Angelo Verploegen, trumpet, Floris van der Vlugt, alto saxophone,Tini Thomsen, bass clarinet and baritone saxophone; and the rhythm section of Thijs Huijbens, guitar, Ulrich Wentzlaff-Eggebert, bass, and Yonga Sun, drums) who competently execute arrangements which are interesting on their own but do not intrude on the vocalist. What’s really fascinating is the way that arranger Abelen has been able to combine funky guitar/bass/drums rhythmic patterns with post-bop, modal jazz improvisations into a seamless fit. This melding of genres harks back to Miles Davis’ fusion bands. It is helped along by fine ensemble work of the reeds and trumpet acting as a sort of Greek tragic chorus behind del Mar’s laments and at times achieving the resonance of a Bach chorale. So much is going on, and yet it all comes together so well that you can choose to enjoy the music as background or sink your teeth into it for the deeper experience it conveys.

A run-through of the tracks will give a further idea of what is happening in this album. In the first track, the title tune “Song on the eve of dismissal,” the frustrated employee cries out her virtues amid all the tensions of the workplace. The band serves as a chorus of co-workers while the rhythm section pounds out its agreement with the singer. All sound out the existential nature of work - there is no forgiveness. As an interlude, Abelen delivers a solid straight-ahead trombone solo with finesse and tone inspired by the likes of Urbie Green and J.J. Johnson.

In “Prayer to the shareholder,” the supplicant’s “religion”is the corporate mentality and the godhead is the stock price. In protest, bass and drums pound out a funk-style chant followed by a chorale of trombone and van der Vlugt’s saxophone. It’s a profound and sardonic critique of corporate short-termism. Some relief is required, so in the next song, “Off-site weekend,” we find that Thomsen’s baritone saxophone gives us a light, swinging break from the work site. It’s the company picnic. But a four note descending scale in the instrumental chorus betrays the singer’s half-hearted attempt to be in the mood for a party.

“Imposter syndrome” offers a sad lament stemming from an inferiority complex. We can all recognize the gloomy outlook on self that takes over when we are being squeezed out of a job. “I am fake/ a cheat/ a fraud.” Huijben’s guitar tells the story, for which Del Mar finds the words. Van der Vlugt responds to del Mar’s self-chastisement with a lyrical, ascending alto saxophone solo and then interacts with the singer as if to affirm and comfort her, but to no avail. In the next song, “Out of the box,” which starts with a brief trombone phrase, the singer feels imprisoned, isolated. How does she get out of the box, the situation? The trombone plays the sustained notes of Fate. The singer responds, “Release me, I pray.”

Back “At home,” the singer/employee leaves a voice message for a friend, cancelling a date. She thinks, “At home, there’s time and peace sublime,” but again the job intrudes: “I have to plough through lots of work tonight.” Here the horns and rhythm section work together to make a funky situation funkier.

Now we are reaching the climax of the situation. With “Nobody told me,” the frustrated employee realizes that the signs are that she’s going to be fired. “Suddenly it all makes sense, they are sending me away.” Everything goes wrong; nothing works. “I know that they know I am over and gone.” A relentless baritone sax riff and Sun’s marching drums chart the bad news. She is going to be axed.

Her friend senses the pending disaster. Requesting “Honey text me back,” he or she is very worried and texts the distraught employee. The music consists of a ballad with a walking rhythm in which Thomsen’s bass clarinet sings sadly like a commiserating friend. The alto saxophone chimes in, forming a “support group” for their friend.

Finally, the guillotine comes down. “I hate to let you go” is the exit interview. The boss offers little commiseration: “I hate to let you go. We must stay future proof.” Verploegen’s trumpet shouts out the inner scream of the worker who realizes her worst fear has been realized.

The troubling themes and musical expressiveness of
Songs on the eve of dismissal are suggestive of a dramatic theater piece or opera, and indeed, Abelen and Geleijnse are finalizing the script for a stage production comprising the Songs. But the wonderful thing about this recording is that you can either get out the Kleenex or enjoy the music the way you would any great jazz vocalist with a terrific band. This dual function of jazz is part of a tradition. You can listen to Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra either way. It’s only possible with a composer, lyricist, singer, band, and arranger like those in this album who know how to make it work.

Track Listing
Song on the eve of dismissal; Prayer to the shareholder; Off-site weekend; Imposter syndrome; Out of the box; At home; Nobody told me; Honey text me back; I hate to let you go.

Lorena del Mar - voice; Angelo Verploegen - trumpet; Floris van der Vlugt - alto saxophone; Chris Abelen - trombone; Tini Thomsen - bass clarinet & baritone saxophone; Thijs Huijbens - guitar; Ulrich Wentzlaff-Eggebert - double bass; Yonga Sun - drums.

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Songs on the eve of dismissal (CAMP-008), available at all streaming services, Amazon [CD] and in the Store [CD]
Lyrics by Bastiaan Geleijnse
Compositions, arrangements, editing, mixing and producing by Chris Abelen
All recordings at the WedgeView Studios (2017), except for the trombone (Chris Abelen) and baritone sax & bass clarinet (Tini Thomsen).
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Prayer to the shareholder

O Lord, We create value in your name
You oversee our affairs
You know the outcome of our actions
Now, and in the future

You know our spread, alpha and beta
You know our strengths and weaknesses
You notice not only our struggle of today
But oversee entire quarters

You teach us not to be selfish
Nor to take into account our colleagues
Or employment
But only to consider true value and return
Regardless of where it originates

No man can hide from your command
Board members tremble before you
Like we tremble for your orders
And live in fear of a correction

Thus today we pray
For your blessing
And give into your hands
Our dividend

May it be reinvested
Into tomorrow’s winners
Or hedge
Your currency exposure
Or serve in your suit
Against those who aim to withhold
Your rightful profits

And should you abandon us
Do give us faith
That you will reinvest
When blood runs through the streets
Nobody told me

I did not see it coming,
I must have been blind
Amazing how clues just get blocked from your mind
When that meeting was cancelled, two weeks ago
appointments rescheduled
twice in a row
and Martha came in
without saying hello
But still I kept going,
still I didn't know

My company smart card bounced
in the restaurant today
suddenly it all makes sense, they're sending me away
My colleagues go eating on
like nothing is really wrong
But I know that they know
I'm over and gone

A line is growing
behind me and my tray
Maybe I'll leave it here,
just walk away
I finally get why Denise
won't call me back
Why the beamer broke down
while presenting to Jack
And why my proposal
got 'lost in the mail'
In hindsight it isn't
so hard to unveil


Nobody told me
Everyone knew
it's over, I'm fired,
I'm totally through