Astronotes is a wonderful group of Dutch musicians who are all very active on the fertile Dutch music scene as members of this group, individually, and as members of other groups. On this foggy night in Toronto they brought us a taste of the Dutch jazz scene, mostly bright and always interesting, full of subtleties, of intensity and strategic spaces.
They played many of the pieces from their CD Joost Buis Astronotes on DATA records and other Joost Buis compositions. Some seemed quite tightly composed, especially the close to classical quartet piece (Alburst?) featuring bass, bassoon, clarinet and trumpet. This was played by all with subtle nuance and meticulous attention to detail. Bassist Wilbert de Joode was outstanding. A bowed introduction led to the brief suggestion of a whistling kettle produced by the interference of a finger raising the register of the bass to unbelievable heights. A near-violin sound emerged and gradually lowered through lovely cello notes to the lowest and richest bass tones, all played with superlative sensitivity. The reeds joined their divergent characters in a four note motif that alternated with the bass part, in the third repetition altering the motif into a more extended phrase and so the piece developed through to the solo bass ending. Beautiful.
In interesting contrast, this was followed by a piece named Beef Stew based on the first two bars of Captain Beefhearts Harry Irene. This was a great, fun piece (not in a silly way) that showed off Joost Buis talent on the trombone.
Inspired by a figure from a different era was Tanguska Butterfly, which Joost Buis dedicated to Harry Carney, the baritone player who convinced Duke Ellington to include baritone saxophone in the band. This piece started with circling sax and pizzicato bass alternating with bowed notes. A lovely melody emerged and a brief humourous touch came in with a clicking as of castanets. The tune moved between melody and disintegrating melody; the lush harmonies associated with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn interspersed with repeated triadic arpeggios, moments of high pitched vocal shrieking and recurring waltz-time interludes.