Last Sunday, The Windup Space hosted the revered Dutch free jazz drummer Han Bennink, as well as the California-born, Amsterdam-residing violist Mary Oliver as part of their monthly Creative Differences series.
Here’s what you need to know about Han Bennink: He co-founded the influential improvisational group Instant Composers Pool in 1967 and was a key collaborator of incendiary German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann in the sixties and beyond. Bennink is known for his inclusive drum style, which switches between reverent jazz idioms, and fierce, even absurd, “out” playing, regularly bringing foreign objects and his own body into the mix.
Joining Bennink and Oliver on stage, in ever-shifting permutations, were some of Baltimore’s finest improvisational talent: Michael Formanek on double bass, Lafayette Gilchrist on piano, Dave Ballou on trumpet, and John Dierker on reed instruments. Dierker’s participation seemed especially appropriate; an omnivorous and accomplished player in his own right, he is a frequent member of Baltimore’s Microkingdom — aggressive, frenetic heirs to Bennink’s ’60s collaborations — who have branched out effortlessly into the indie rock scene, and who, like their Northern European forebears, somehow manage to get their experimental records reviewed on Pitchfork.
Bennink, who turns 70 this year, was as youthful and energetic as ever, turning his sticks into an impromptu jaw harp, waving brushes in the air like a hyperactive child, laughing and screaming through his fills. He playfully baited the audience in between pieces, saying it was great to be “here in Detroit.”
In a way he’s a hard player to accompany; his show-stealing antics and aura of fame tend to draw a disproportionate amount of attention, which can undermine the anarchic quality of free improvisation. But the Baltimoreans matched Bennink in intensity and timbral range, jockeying between growly squonks, romantic melodies, expressionistic scrapes and multiphonics. In deed, there were moments it barely felt like jazz at all. One of the few improvisations that saw Bennink sitting out — a stark, pointillist exploration from Oliver, Ballou, and Dierker — reminded me more of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” than anything by Ornette Coleman.
The next Creative Differences will feature New York alto saxophonist Darius Jones and takes place on February 12.