When I heard Joe Higham's wonderfully diverse world fusion treat Where Are We Now? last year, I became suspicious that the Low Countries might be a magnet for out-the-box thinking for jazz players. Listening to Eric Vloeimans and his Gatecrash's new release Heavensabove! just confirmed those suspicions.
The trumpet ace from Holland Eric Vloeimans is a jazz hero in his native country, regularly racking up awards and other forms of acclaim there. Trained in both Rotterdam and New York, Vloeimans gained valuable experience in Mercer Ellington's and Frank Foster's bands before moving on to a wide assortment of other ensembles. He's also recorded as a leader since 1992, garnering a reputation along the way as a fresh and expressive composer and performer. He's developed a distinctive style on his horn, one he can make sound like a saxophone at times, and sometimes reflective while other times explosive. In 2006, he decided to take a plunge into electronic music and when he did, he did so on his own terms. Gatecrash is the vehicle he created for exploring this newest phase of his career, consisting of Vloeimans on trumpet and effects, Jeroen van Vliet on keyboards and effects, Gulli Gudundsson on basses and effects, and Jasper Van Hulten on drums.
Gatecrash went on to tour extensively, with two live documents to show for it (Gatecrashin and Hyper). This past February came the U.S. release of their first studio effort, Heavensabove!. It's a record that might not get as exotic as Higham's, but the range of moods and Vloeimans' mastery of using electronics to enhance---not ensconce---musicianship are two of the elements that make this just as much an irrepressible and irresistible release.
He and his band start off the proceedings with the highly danceable Maceo," inspired by James Brown's favorite sax player and a force in funk in his own right. Already, Vloeimans is showing how effects can bolster his sound, in this case by using looping and phasing his solitary trumpet sound like an entire front line of horns. From there, the performances get more cerebral but no less stimulating. Hymn From Snow" is an excerpt pulled from a longer composition form van Vliet. Although running a scant 102 seconds, it's strikingly airy and celestial, and the trumpet floats delicately, sounding much like a flute. It segues right in van Hultan's Floratone" (see video of live performance below), that boasts a memorable, folk-based chorus and counter rhythms. Milkman" skillfully combines traditional, jazz modal forms with more modern touches, especially van Vliet's ever-present Fender Rhodes.
Gudmundsson sits out for Six Things On My Mind," making this a bass-less trio improvisation that feels liberated with a bass anchor tying it down. On the other hand Jailbreak" is an improvised piece with all four band members involved, and strong evidence of the rapport this quartet had developed over time. Mr. Selcuk" is one place where Vloeimans does look outside of Western music forms for inspiration, and this peaceful tune has a Middle Eastern feel to it. Atmospheric textures are also the order of the day for selections like Orbit" and Snow," where Vloeimans' trumpet at time evokes Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer (although he never gets quite as close to experimental new age or electronica as those two. Fete de la Musique" and Song Of Gods" have song structures that more closely resemble the mainstream jazz Vloeimans was previously immersed in, but in the hands of this group, the songs take on a more modern character. Pedal To The Metal" is dark, energetic and crunchy, just like a good Miles tune from his early fusion bands.
With all the electronics and effects, the album manages to retain a nostalgic feeling for those of us who remember the vintage 70s fusion, and for those who long for modern jazz-rock to retain all the things that make jazz great, Vloeimans and his Gatecrash band serves that audience well. Just like his Dutch forebear Jasper van't Hof did more than 35 years earlier.
Heavensabove! is a rare record that is full of fun surprises but stay remarkably consistent throughout.