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Big-T & the Bada-Bings

Breuker Breaks All the Rules
by Molly Buck

Itís not often one gets to see a hyperactive, cacophonous circus of talented dandies reveling in juvenile glee. But such was my luck when, on October 5, I witnessed the Willem Breuker Kollektief, an 11-member ensemble from Amsterdam, during one of two consecutive evening performances at Tonic in New York City. Respected worldwide as a highly-skilled philharmonic ensemble that experiments in contemporary jazz, the Kollektief was in town to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and the band members got away with a great deal of corniness throughout the evening. The confident smirks on the faces of these musicians made it clear that they were enjoying themselves just as thoroughly as the audience was enjoying their music.

The ensemble consists of ten gentlemen on trombone, trumpet, saxophone, drum, piano and bass, and one lovely lady playing, among other things, violin and saw. Although impossible to dance to, the Kollektiefís sound would be perfect for an old silent film or cartoon soundtrack. Within a single song, the musical genre will abruptly change from standard big band to improvised jazz to Broadway musical score to circus music. During many of these frantic pieces, one could distinctly envision a goofy, animated marching band moving in fast-forward or a frenzied Charlie Chaplin striving to keep up with a factory assembly line.

With considerable help from trombonist Nico Nijholt, who wore a gaudy red ruffled tuxedo shirt and suspenders, the ensemble transmitted a vaudevillian energy. During a sung rendition of "Yes, We Have No Bananas," Nico strew various plastic fruits over soloist Willem Breukerís head and shoulders, while Breuker enthusiastically played the part of the fruit vendor selling his wares. After several solos, Nico would affectionately hug the soloist, emoting overly sentimental tenderness and support for his comrades. The first encore had the members jovially dancing around the stage, eventually forming a kind of conga line, while a few continued to play chaotic jazz riffs, full of quick stops and abrupt key changes. The final encore had Nico singing a mawkish love song in Dutch, while lovingly caressing a few audience membersí heads and gazing deeply into their eyes.

The performance provided unique and innovative entertainment, though the silliness sometimes detracted from the quality of music and the high level of musicianship within the ensemble. Musically, WBK was tight and skillfully experimental, though the drummer, Robbie Verdurman, occasionally broke into standard rock & roll riffs that sounded out of place. The audience was consistently pleased and surprised by the ensembleís antics.

On the way out, Nico, who was hugging everyone as they filed towards the door, caught me in a warm bear hug. Right after this, I heard an audience member say that someone should make little collector-series figurines of the band members. The image perfectly punctuated the giddy feeling I got from an evening spent with this peerless ensemble.

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
SwingTime! Across The USA:
The Jivin' Lindy Hoppers
Breuker Breaks The Rules
Beatin' The Chops:
The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
Paris (Combo) By Night
Sewing To the Oldies
Royal Crown Revue
Walks On Fire
Ode To An Ape:
The Legacy of King Kong
Karaoke Swings!


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