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REVIEWS

All Music Guide

A much stronger effort than his earlier Dance of the Penguins (BVHAAST 9608), What a Romance features a more confident, mature, and gruff-sounding Chris Abelen on trombone -- who not only leads but does so in glorious style. The trombonist has expanded his technical abilities without sacrificing the distinct primitive tonal qualities that make his blowing so attractive. Abelen shares the front line with the talented tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, but it may be the atmospheric punches of Corrie van Binsbergen on electric guitar that make the greatest impression (other than that of the trombonist). Van Binsbergen adds a rock-inflected stride that contrasts handily with the tightly constructed lines of the horns. Also, the compositions are perfect for the displays of all the members of the quintet. As Kevin Whitehead notes in his succinct liners, Abelen writes "short pithy themes" and "undulating arrangements" that give rise to lots of opportunities to stretch out on the solos. With bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Charles Huffstadt firmly holding the bottom, the 13 relatively short tracks comprising this recording (none more than six minutes) offer finely crafted statements that let each member strut his stuff to fine advantage.
Steven Loewy, All Music Guide
Jazz man

The quintet assembled by trombonist Chris Abelen ("What A Romance") is a brass dream: tenor saxophone (Tobias Delius), a guitar treated like a trumpet, riffs and colors (Corrie van Binsbergen), doublebass (Wilbert de Joode) and drums (Charles Huffstadt. The themes are conceived as launching pad for accompanied improvs, for games of out of wack rhythms. An insidious nonchalant merriment.
Alex Dutilh
Jazz Man - May 2000


Le quintette réuni par le tromboniste Chris Abelen est cuivré à souhait: saxophone ténor (Tobias Delius), guitare traitée comme une trompette, riffs et couleurs (Corrie van Binsbergen), contrebasse (Wilbert de Joode) et batterie (Charles Huffstadt). Les thèmes sont conçus commes autant de rampes de lancement à des impros accompagnées, à des jeux de décalages rythmiques. Une gaieté insidieusement nonchanlante.
Alex Dutilh
Jazz Man - May 2000

Jazzpodium

Der niederländische Posaunist Chris Abelen hat sich eine individuell verlesene Truppe zusammengesucht, um seine improvisierte Vision von Romantik und Freiheit zu verwirklichen. Sein Dreamteam besteht aus Tobias Delius, ts, Corrie van Binsbergen, Gewinnerin des Dutch national jazz prize, e-g, Wilbert de Joode, b, und Charles Huffstadt, dr. Kurze knapp umrissene Themen bieten die Plattformen für nicht zu ausgedehnte offene Improvisationen, deren rhythmische und melodische Strukturen immer auf das Thema bezogen bleiben, gleichwohl jede Menge individueller Wegbeschreibungen, dialogischer Orientierungsfahrten und gemeinsamer Sternwanderungen zulassen. Abelen spielt ein schillernde Posaune, Corrie van Binsbergen entlockt der Gitarre herrlich nostalgische Wah-Wah-Klänge, Tobias Delius setzt am Saxophon immer wieder überraschende Wendungen in die Welt, Wilbert de Joode definiert souveräne Räume und Charles Huffstadt zeigt zich als durchwegs melodiebewusster Drummer.
Insgesamt strahlt die Live-CD nirgends irgendwelche Hektik aus, die Musik atmet ruhig und bewusst, spielt mit der Zeit, zerdehnt sie, komprimiert und verschiebt die Zusammenhänge, weiß aber dabei immer um die Bezugspunkte, deren Autorität sich nie ganz verliert.
Tobias Böcker
Jazzpodium, 7/8 - 2000

The Dutch trombonist Chris Abelen has chosen an individually hand-picked group to realize his improvised vision of romanticism and freedom. His Dream Team consists of Tobias Delius, ts, Corrie van Binsbergen, winner of the Dutch national jazz prize, eg, Wilbert de Joode, b and Charles Huffstadt, dr. Short, spare themes present the platform for not too extended open improvisations whose rhythmic and melodic structures can relate to the theme, although they permit any amount of personal wanderings, dialogue-like orientation adventures and common exploration of the stars. Abelen plays a scintillatiing trombone, Corrie van Binsbergen coaxes magnificently nostalgic wah-wah sounds from her guitar, Tobias Delius creates with his saxophone again and again the most surprising turnabouts. Wilbert de Joode defines musical space in a masterly manner, and Charles Huffstadt shows himself to be a thorough melody-conscious drummer.
All in all, this live CD never conveys a hectic pulse, the music breathes quietly, plays with the tempo, expands and compresses it, displaces the connections, but is always conscious of the fixed center of relations whose authority never gets entirely lost.

Tobias Bocker
Jazzpodium, 7/8 - 2000
Jazz Times

One of the unalloyed joys of contemporary Dutch jazz is the way its musicians take such delight in contextualized chaos. To the scene's finest musicians, improvisation isn't merely a set of prescribed tactics and patterns for dealing with specific chord changes, but an eagerness to spontaneously make something out of a fleeting set of circumstances.
The members of trombonist Chris Abelen's quintet know their scales, but they can also navigate unfamiliar surroundings. While the music on his second album, What a Romance, isn't as unwieldy as that produced by his Dutch precursors like Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker - with whom Abelen worked in the mid-'80s - it's not unusual to pick out five different yet simultaneous trains of thought here and there.
That's a good thing.
Bassist Wilbert de Joode, drummer Charles Huffstadt, electric guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen and tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius work with Abelen like a dance troupe torn between emulating the Rockettes and liberating themselves with modern choreography, but without ever seeming lost between the two. Attacking the leader's memorable, hooky compositions, the quintet works wonderfully together, playing multi-faceted arrangements to superb cumulative effect, but then they're off; van Binsbergen exploits her effects-heavy sound to lay down a wide variety of textural gambits, while the rhythm section co-exists on different ends of the same polymetric plane. Delius plays with a ballad-up muscularity, exhibiting the same kind of power and bittersweet lyricism as primo Archie Shepp, while the leader comes across as the most mild-mannered of the whole bunch, happily playing the straight-man at this free bop dada jam. While this approach would simply sound unfocused with loads of other players, with Abelen and company it bristles with excitement.

Peter Margasak
Jazz Times, August 2000
Luister

Trombonist Chris Abelen (who also takes part in Willem van Manen's big band project Contraband) presents himself on this disc with his occasional quintet in a live setting, in other words: with an audience, a small one in this case, judged by the few blase-sounding hands clapping after each number. This is the second CD project led by Abelen. The first one was Dance of the Penguins, which hardly counts as an 'album' because of its short playing time. With almost sixty minutes, this new disc is different. In those sixty minutes thirteen titles are presented, all written by Abelen, and all of them comprising free, even wayward melodic, harmonic and rhythmic excercises rather than immediately recognizable thematic tunes. A striking feature of this production is the marvellous stage registration (the live recordings were made in Nighttown, Rotterdam and the Amsterdam Bimhuis in March 1999), which does full justice, up to the tiniest detail, to the splendid sparkling sound of Abelen's trombone, the tenor sax of Tobias Delius and the metallic sound of Corrie van Binsbergen's guitar which is given a warmth she had to do without on many earlier recordings. Together with bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Charles Huffstadt she engages in adventurous improvisations in which there is somehow always room for each of the performers' personal touch - at the same time adapting their playing to what the others are doing. Intriguing contemporary jazz which, unlike much free jazz that is hampered by the tendency of performers to produce too many notes, remains quite interesting because of the many changes in intensity. Chris Abelen and his quintet have a sense of proportion.

Rene de Cocq
Luister - april 2000
Muse translations: Caecile de Hoog

Uitvoering 9 - Opname 9
Trombonist Chris Abelen (ook lid van de Contraband, het big-bandproject van Willem van Manen), laat zich hier horen met zijn gelegenheidskwintet in een live-setting, met publiek dus, een klein publiek, te horen aan de paar blase klinkende handklapjes na de nummers. Het is na Dance of the penguins het tweede cd-project voor Abelen als leider, al kon daar nauwelijks van een 'album' worden gesproken, gezien de spaarzame speelduur. Dat zit hier met bijna een uur wel goed. In dat uur passeren dertien titels de revue, allemaal van Abelens hand, en allemaal eerder vrije, om niet te zeggen tegendraadse, melodische, harmonische en ritmische exercities dan direct herkenbare themamelodietjes. Opvallendste pluspunt van deze productie is de formidabele podiumregistratie (de live-opnamen zijn gemaakt in Nighttown Rotterdam en BIM-huis Amsterdam, maart 1999), die tot in het kleinste detail recht doet aan het prachtige glanzend trombonegeluid van Abelen en aan het spel van tenorsaxofonist Tobias Delius, die de metalen gitaarsound van Corrie van Binsbergen een warmte meegeven die ze bij veel eerdere opnamen moest ontberen. Samen met bassist Wilbert de Joode en drummer Charles Huffstadt zorgen deze drie voor avontuurlijke improvisaties waarin ze allemaal op een of andere manier hun persoonlijke eigenwijsheid weten in te passen in, en aan te passen aan wat ze de anderen horen doen. Intrigerende eigentijdse jazz, die, waar veel vrije jazz vaak sterft in het fabriceren van zoveel mogelijk noten, door vele wisselingen in intensiteit een behoorlijke mate van boeiendheid heeft. Chris Abelen en zijn kwintet houden maat.

Rene de Cocq
Luister - april 2000
Jazz Live

Abelens Musik ist voll von Ecken und Kanten. Er gibt dem Zuhörer nur kurz Zeit sich an einen Rhythmus oder eine Melodie zu gewöhnen. Die fünf beteiligten Musiker sind allesamt in anderen Bands stämmig und nicht nur das, sie kommen auch aus den verschiedensten musikalischen Stilrichtungen. Aber gerade das dürfte den Reiz dieser Musik ausmachen und die enorme Spannung erzeugen. Die Gitarristin Corrie van Binsbergen übt sich oft in nobler Zurückhaltung, doch urplötzlich kommt er zu überraschenden Ausbrüchen. Darüber schwebt immer Abelens traumhaftes Posaunenspiel, sei es nun pur oder gedämpft. Das Überraschende an den einzelnen Titeln ist auch ihre Dauer. Sie überschreiten kaum die vier bis fünf Minutengrenze, was für improvisierte Musik nicht sehr lange erscheint. Doch in dieser kurzen Zeit entwickeln sich die Titel oft relativ weit, brechen andererseits aber auch mitten in dieser Entwicklung ab. Noch überraschender ist aber, dass dies auf der live eingespielten CD "What A Romance" ebenso der Fall ist. Man würde doch annehmen, dass es hier zu ausgedehnteren Soli kommt, aber so weisen zum Beispiel die vier titel, die auf beiden CDs vertreten sind, nahezu gleichlange Spieldauern auf. Ich persönlich bevorzuge etwas die Liveatmosphäre, obwohl beide Produktionen hervorragende Musik anbieten können.
PIP
Jazz Live - 4 - 2000


Abelen's music is full of unexpected turns. He allows his listeners but little time to get used to a rythmic or melodic phrase. The five musicians not only come from various bands, they also have their roots in a wide diversity of musical styles. But that is exactly what makes this music so exciting and full of tension. Guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen often exerts herself in the noble art of holding back, and then, all of sudden, there are these startling outbursts. And all the time the wonderful sound of Abelen's trombone can be heard - sometimes muted. What is also unusual about the respective numbers is their playing time. They seldom exceed four or five minutes, which is quite short, judged by the standards of improvised music. Nevertheless, in such short time the music develops relatively extensively - and occasionally the development is cut short. Even more surprising is that all this also holds for the live CD What a Romance. One would expect the solos to be much longer on a live recording, but for example the four titles recorded on both discs have practically the same duration. Although I have a slight preference for the atmosphere of a live recording, both discs are outstanding achievements.
PIP
Jazz Live 4/2000
Muse translations: Caecile de Hoog
Cuardernos de Jazz

Chris Abelen, materia gris de varias formaciones, miren por dónde, también tenia su quinteto: un grupo en absoluto indiferente y bien empapado de la filosofía elemental de Misha Mengelberg, de buscar la "belleza" y renunciar a ella de inmediato.
What a Romance es un ejemplar manifiesto de actitud personal, creativo en el ámbito de una fusión de valores jazzísticos perfectamente representada por los instrumentos de Abelen, hábil para todo tipo de matices, Delius, un soberbio saxofonista con una gama expresiva, una sobria facilidad técnica, y sobre todo una diáfana plasmación de ideas, y van Binsbergen, original guitarrista que desgrana riffs ácidos y aprieta pedales con un mismo sentido de cohesión. Realmente apetece descubrir su disco en vivo de 1995 al frente de la banda De Brokken. El baterista y el contrabajista proveen una pulsación cardiaca, a veces de infarco.
What a Romance es un extraño remake, cuya literalidad incluye la reinterpretación de cinco temas del dico Dance of the Penguins, de 1996, documentando a través de la comparación la evolución de la banda. Desde el tema How to Cook, reggae donde convergen un delicado fraseo friselliano con la carnosidad del tenor a lo Sonny Rollins de Delius, el quinteto de Chris Abelen logra un disco redondo de grabación íntima en vivo.
Edward Fuente
Cuardernos de Jazz, September/October 2000
Cadence

The Dutch improvisation scene has continued to provide a vital focal point for improvisation. There is now a younger generation that is continuing to build on the foundation laid by the first generation of musicians like Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg, and Han Bennink with spectacular results. These three releases offer a glimpse at a few of these muscicians, who clearly deserve wider recognition.
The live date by trombonist Chris Abelen's quintet blends many of the same elements as Delius' quartet. (The fact that the tenor player is a member of this unit certainly contributes.) Again, there are the wide range of sources; the penchant for each of the members to spin off in different tangents and stretch time almost to breaking point; the uncanny ability to pull it all back together when things seem just on the verge of spinning into chaos. The 13 originals all charge by in the 3 to 5-minute range, forcing everyone to stay tightly focused. There is no room for extended solos, so instead, everyone digs in and pushes the music along with loose, surging energy. Abelen's clear, punchy lines prod and push against the phrasing, tinged with just a dash of braying bluster. Delius' loping tenor is more gruff-edged here, playing with an elastic phrasing that toys with the groove.
Van Binsbergen's fuzzed electric guitar squiggles and slashes against the rounder tones of tenor and trombone, combining a cranking energy with a Jazzers' sense of phrasing. Her wry sense of humor and taffy-like lines add a sprightly zest to the ensemble. De Joode and Huffstadt are far more than just time keepers here. The bass player anchors the bottom registers, playing against the horn lines and then twisting them with a masterful sense of flow.
Huffstadt has a knack for cutting across the often divergent flows and pulling them together into a propulsive groove. For all the structuralist angularity here, he never lets the music loose its swing. These five romp through the set with an electrifying exuberance; making the most of these simple heads and weaving together a set of engaging ensemble interplay.
Michael Rosenstein
Cadence - december 2000
Brabants Dagblad

A CD with live improvisations by five top musicians from the Netherlands. Not surprisingly, the result is a top disc! What a Romance certainly qualifies as such. In thirteen pieces trombonist Chris Abelen, tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen, double bassist Wilbert de Joode and percussionist Charles Huffstadt show that time need not be of any importance in free improvisation. In short miniatures all kinds of material is approached from a diversity of angles. This leads to a series of surprises and revelations. A penetrating trombone is supported by a tenor sax that never intrudes, an unsettling guitar joins forces with a prominent double bass and delightful percussion. As a rule, improvisatory music is not at its best when recorded. This disc is the proverbial exception.
Rinus van der Heiden
Brabants Dagblad - 27 januari 2000
Muse translations: Caecile de Hoog




Een live-cd vol improvisatiemuziek. Volgespeeld door vijf Nederlandse topmusici. Je moet daar wel een topprodukt mee krijgen. What A Romance is er zo een. In dertien stukken laten trombonist Chris Abelen, tenorsaxofonist Tobias Delius, gitariste Corrie van Binsbergen, contrabassist Wilbert de Joode en slagwerker Charles Huffstadt horen dat tijd geen enkele rol hoeft te spelen bij vrije improvisaties. In kleine miniaturen wordt materiaal uit alle hoeken en gaten zo divers mogelijk benaderd. Dat levert de ene na de andere verrassing op. Een pregnante trombone wordt ondersteund door een zich nergens opdringende tenorsaxofoon, een ontregelende gitaar spant samen met een prominent aanwezige contrabas en fraai slagwerk. Vaak moet je improvisatiemuziek niet via een cd beluisteren. Deze is de spreekwoordelijke uitzondering.
Rinus van der Heiden
Brabants Dagblad - 27 januari 2000
 
Liner notes by Kevin Whitehead

What a romantic Chris Abelen is.

He puts together a quintet, chuckles over the chaos the first rehearsals produce, boasts of how one member hates playing in it, barely works it, makes a CD (“Dance of the penguins,” BVHaast) barely as long as  a short LP, and then puts four of the same tunes on this live sequel - not in extended versions, however, as one of said encores is the shortest piece on a program of pieces so short they barely have time to develop at all.
What a romantic Abelen must be to even try this.
What a lot of romancing he must have to do to get away with it.
 
There are right and wrong ways to make music, to judge by the results, but some of the right ones are wrong and vice versa.
Right: Get a rhythm section used to playing together, to ensure a smooth ride. No, wrong: They may coast on automatic, reminding listeners of the all the other bands  with the same rhythm section.
Wrong: Assemble a band (like this one) where everyone’s timing is different, and sometimes no one takes care of the timekeeping at all.
No, right: Try “Parking” circa 3:20, hear how guitar, bass and drums deal with time behind the tenor saxophone.
(Nothing like just winning the Dutch national jazz prize to give a guitarist license to step out, which Corrie van Binsbergen does a bit here, but in an ensemble like this she values space as few guitarists do.)
They all go their own way but somehow it makes perfect sense.
Now hear all four behind Abelen’s trombone solo on ‘Ploink,” for a rather different effect, and check out his shimmering vibrato and sound while you’re at it.
What a romantic he must be to aim for a sound like that.

 
Mischa Mengelberg has said, free jazz would make good singles music: three minutes is enough.
This isn’t free jazz – that would require some kind of consensus on the part of the musicians, some of whom only cross paths in this quintet - but these pieces aspire to that kind of concision: the players know they better find each other in a hurry, ‘cause it’ll all be over in a blink, given Chris’s hair-trigger for cueing in a closing theme.
Keeping improvisations short has the added virtue of preventing the band from locking into a groove for so long, it becomes an automatic reference point the next time they’re in trouble. (The point of reprising tunes from ‘Dance of the Penguins,” of course, is to let you hear the different ways the same pieces can be developed.)
 
What a moron Abelen would be if he didn’t write tune that lent themselves to his working method.
His short pithy themes are ready departure points for open improvising, and their clarity contrasts nicely with the undulating arrangements, Corrie’s eel-like solo lines, or Toby Delius’s way of stretching a note-hear him ending “ Hoover” – or  Wilbert  de Joode’s of stretching time.
As conceptual ballast, Charles Huffstadt may keep a suggestion of the melody in the air when no one else does. That the players can sort it all out and make something happen in the short time before the leader calls them home, and do it every time, makes you believe in happy endings.
What romantics Abelen makes us.
What a romp.


Kevin Whitehead
 
Chris Abelen Quintet

Chris Abelen - trombone
Tobias Delius - tenor saxophone
Corrie van Binsbergen - guitar
Wilbert de Joode - double bass
Charles Huffstadt - drums

Recorded live by Chris Weeda, march 12&13, 1999
Nightgown - Rotterdam & BIMhuis - Amsterdam