Eric Boeren Quartet – Song for Tracy the Turtle – Live in Brugge 2004 (CF 186)Translating a profound appreciation for alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s 1960s quartet music into something more, Dutch cornetist Eric Boeren expands the structures so the performances reflect the Zunder Zee as much as the Texas Panhandle. Playing both his own tunes and Coleman’s, the brass man also calls on his sidemen’s skills to create more than a Coleman ghost band.
In actuality, since Michael Moore’s clarinet playing seems more personal than his alto saxophone solos, blending the straight horn with Boeren’s cornet produces a sound closer to that of two other Texans – reedist John Carter and cornetist Bobby Bradford – then that of the legendary Coleman Four.
Of course Carter was a long-time friend of Coleman’s and Bradford was part of the alto saxophonist’s band in the early 1970s. Furthermore, over the years, Coleman has adapted his quirky compositions to varied situations, and Ulicoten-born Boeren follows this lead. Each quartet members is sympathetically cooperative as well as suffiently virtuosic. Bassist Wilbert de Joode, for instance, has worked with players as different as pianist Michel Braam and saxophonist Frank Gratkowski. Californian-turned Amsterdamer Moore leads Available Jelly and is in the ICP Orchestra. Boeren gigs with Jelly and Braam’s large groups among many others; and drummer Paul Lovens – pinch-hitting for Han Bennink – has been a Free Music activist since the 1970s playing with everyone from bassist Joëlle Léandre to saxophonist Evan Parker.
Prime example of this skill-blending occurs on the final “Squirrel Feet/The Legend of Bebop” which blends a Coleman and a Boeren tune. Balanced on de Joode’s methodically bowed then plucked strings, the vamping horns recall Bop as much as the New Thing. Following an interlude with Moore expanding the jerky theme with air rasps, the transition section is subtly harmonized. Fluttering contralto saxophone and plunger brass triplets are backed by rattles, pops and jumps from Lovens, plus snaps and dips from the bassist. Finally the child-like Coleman line is smeared away with closely-paced snaps and dips from de Joode and an off-kilter call-and-response horn part.
Instructively enough, the most Coleman-like piece is “Free”, which is ostensibly a free improv but replicates the 1961 Coleman Quartet sound to a T. Boeren plays what could a bugle call charge; Moore offers up multiphonic flutter-tonguing; de Joode picks and plucks and Lovens smacks, ruffs and flams. The tune directly follows Boeren’s own “Charmes” which also has Calvary charge brass inferences as well as tongue-fluttering. Any turns towards legato are nipped later as Moore squeaks stridently and extends slurs while the cornetist bubbles and blasts.
This lyrical vs. atonal tension is maintained throughout the CD. Even the title tune meanders from an uncomplicated muted intermezzo with melodic cornet lines and Moore sounding as if he’s playing a variant on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” to tauter passages. Here the diminishing wispy timbres from Boeren and Moore’s tremolo wiggles are kept afloat by Lovens’ rolls and de Joode’s walking to link with the backbeat-driven tune, “A Fuzzphony”.
Overall the quartet members pull off the difficult task of honoring a revered elder’s music without losing track of their own identities that have been assiduously honed over the years.