han bennink | solo


HAN BENNINK has a new solo record: Free Music Production (Germany) SAJ 21, West/East, recorded in concert, West Berlin October 1978.

And this is a review of it. But why any writing should want to probe under the surface of this brashly attractive and simple music I can’t imagine. To what purpose? – influences, references, structures, cultural implications, psychologies, politics…the music wipes all that away like a multicoloured cloth cleaning the mist off a window. The music is surface, like all good music; it doesn’t conceal anything. No designs are implicated, no hysteric self projections – it is unthreatened, open and fresh, and its aim is sheer delight; it is a true playing…

saj21.jpg Han Bennink – drums, percussion, trombone, megaphone, viola, A clarinet, banjo, stones, cassette recorder, harmonica, piano, bass clarinet, typewriter, watch, sticks, conch shell, ladder, bull-roarer. Recorded by Jost Gebers on October 13th,1978 in Berlin. Produced by Han Bennink & Jost Gebers. SIDE A: 1a. Ansage…TRB (1:41) 1b. Viola (7:20) 2. La strada (5:29) 3. Banjo (4:31) SIDE B: 1. Und so Leiter (21:20) All compositions by Han Bennink. Cover: Design by Han Bennink.

…This is to say that Bennink, who might at one time have been thought of as operating a particular sonic area (old thunder guts) with purposive derivations from black free-drumming, can only now be heard as operating a music of his own. The indulgence sometimes implied in thrusting forward those deep energy constructs, all that weight, is now completely absent, and the music is almost monastic in its simplicity, with an open-air lightness to it, and totally non-aggressive. While there is still plenty of energy, and of bangs and crashes and broken drumsticks, and indeed plenty of intensity, these factors now seem to serve a different purpose, and instead of sub-serving a heavy manipulation of expectation and shock techniques, they are, with all the other newer sounds, lifted up into a musical linearity and continuum.

So it is too with all the musical references, which now sound more like reminiscences – of jazz, sometimes of eastern music, perhaps Cajun or white banjo-picking, African lute techniques and so on – they don’t seem to be there to make a point or to claim a cultural connection. They’re there for their surface and the way they help to raise the music up from depth and weight into the upper strata. The jazz in particular, which is now overtly referred to, sometimes by quotation even, is brought in in such a way that there could be no question of nefarious cross-cultural rip-offs. There is simply no attempt to subsume Afro-American originals and appropriate a tradition – chunks of the stuff just lie there on the surface of the music like pieces of gramophone records, and they are so obviously there as homage to their attractiveness, remaining intact and distant. Most of these musical sightings in Bennink’s performance, jazz or not, refer us elsewhere in the simple sense of liking the music, and their only implications lie in the fact that they support Bennink in the kind of musician he wants to be (and is) – the non-academic, technically proficient, kind of professional amateur – he who does it with consummate skill for the sheer thrill of it. But this concept has to be sharply distinguished, in his case, from the skilled imitator.

icp011.jpgThe most obvious indicator of the new direction Bennink has been taking has been the dimunition of his percussion kit and the adoption of other instruments – clarinet, banjo, viola, bass clarinet, and now trombone (plus alto sax, not yet on record). Such things as the cheng, soft trumpet, Tibetan horn etc. used to be parts of his extended percussion. His first solo record (1971-2) had extended passages on some of these, solo, plus “a fiddle-like instrument,” in a way which was still in some ways an extension of his normal playing, very effectively so, and there was a strong sense of exploring the unfamiliar instrument as non-expert. On the new solo disc the string and wind instruments are there in their own right. We normally think of a “multi-instrumentalist” as someone who has a basic instrument, and also performs on a lot of others more-or-less for their sound-effects (AEC for instance), but Bennink has mastered each of these instruments, not of course to the extent that a specialist in any of them would seek to exhaust all their possibilities, but he has mastered them for his own purposes, up to the point where the instrument will furnish the level of musical excitement and pleasure that he demands.

This means in effect that he normally plays each instrument in one particular way (such as the viola, always an extreme version of “spiccato”) which is his discovery and unique to him. It is only on the reed instruments that this resembles “normal” playing of the instrument (in a jazz or free-music context), as he seems to use reeds as the area where he re-asserts the intensity-playing at the roots of his music. All the outrageous sounds are wedged into the episodic flux of delighted and persistent play which now characterizes Bennink’s music. It is remarkable how his musicianly [ all Photos in this fader by Peter Gannushkin ] intensity forces the most unlikely effects to cohere into this – even the overload of his electric megaphone, with its screams of basic harmonic intervals, seems intimate to the music, and at one with the similarly basic, rather military, intervals he deploys in his new fast and energetic trombone playing. But sudden ear-splitting crashes are now rare, and the dominant effect on percussion (& elsewhere) is of an interplay of steady rhythms against an alternative free fluidity which is no longer spiky or protective; this applies to the actual details of his episodes of full-blast full-speed drumming as well.

lp-photo01.jpgThe quality I seek to define here is well brought out as a contrast on Bennink’s duo record with Kees Hazevoet, Calling Down The Flevo Spirit (Snipe Records, Holland, 7678), recorded September 1978. Here Hazevoet emerges most of the time as very much a “free player” of the kind Bennink no longer is, especially on his main instruments, piano and (I think) clarinet. His playing is emphatic, irregular and assertive, as well as being “loose” in a way derived from free-jazz. Freedom is insisted on, asserted as a demand, whereas Bennink assumes freedom a priori, and thus gains access to a further freedom in the playing, a non-assertive freedom allied to enjoyment and concentrated work. This contrast is not strong, and certainly not disabling as they both play very well, but it is there. It is only in the most fragmented sections, and especially on side B where Hazevoet becomes a multi-instrumentalist himself, that it tends to subside. But even then, Hazevoet’s violin playing, a loose-wristed spiky flux which I think he does very well, is easily distinguished from Bennink’s single-handed continuity on the viola.

incus25.jpgIt’s a delightful record (by the way), partly by dint of the tensions played in this way between the two participants. A quite different duo situation exists with Derek Bailey on Company 3 (Incus 25) of 1976, for Bailey himself has also surpassed the bounds of an assertive freedom, but in a very different way, as a uni-instrumentalist with a vast resource of musical detail available all from within his intimacy with the guitar. The contrast here is more basic in a way, as the conceptual nature of Bennink’s music stands against the stark instrumentality of Bailey’s. Thus they coincide or not across a strong tension, though Bailey facilitates the conjunction by avoiding extended improvisational development in favour of a play of resource quite like Bennink’s. The strongest moments, which constitute most of the disc, are where their two distinct versions of a non-assertive continuity, fragmented or not, are brought within sight of each other. There’s also seven minutes of hilarious satire (but insofar as this satire concerns jazz, note that it is only pseudo-jazz which is so ruthlessly mocked, leaving, for Bennink especially, the pristine energies of original jazz and bebop strictly alone).

icp013.jpg“I should also report on another duo record, with Misha Mengelberg on ICP 013, now called Midwoud 77, but at present I can only say it’s a very strange record in every possible way. Officially it’s a reissue of ICP 013 which was a set of six 7-inch flexidiscs of the duo recorded in 1972, but it contains different performances not even from the same period as the first issue. It’s extraordinary low grade recording, perhaps done with a cassette, in which both drums and piano sound like hollow toys not to mention a persistent pitch-wobble. Mengelberg most of the time plays (if he plays at all) a single piano line with one hand in a style best described as paralytic. Bennink sticks mainly to percussion and, for him, really doesn’t do very much, as far as one can hear what he’s doing at all. There’s very little of the silly tunes, commercial rhythms and general fun playing associated with the duo. Bennink seems to be listening hard to Mengelberg and constantly taking cues from him, but as Mengelberg does next to nothing this restricts Bennink’s scope a good deal. It’s all very odd – one is invited to stick one’s head into this box containing 34 minutes 05 seconds of almost unmitigated rarified bleakness. But the whole effect, including the large contribution the recording quality makes to it, isobviously entirely deliberate.”

Peter Riley, 1979


more on Han Bennink’s web page here…

selected Han Bennink recordings:


Han Bennink biography:

Han Bennink (born April 17, 1942) is a Dutch jazz drummer, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist.

Bennink was born in Zaandam, the son of a classical percussionist. He played the drums and the clarinet during his teens. Through the 1960s he drummed with a number of American musicians visiting the Netherlands, including Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy (he can be heard on Dolphy’s final studio recording, Last Date (1964)).

He subsequently became a central figure in the emerging European free improvisation scene. In 1963 he formed a quartet with pianist Misha Mengelberg and saxophonist Piet Noordijk which had a number of different bassists and which played at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival, and in 1967 he was a co-founder of the Instant Composers Pool with Mengelberg and Willem Breuker, which sponsored Dutch avant garde performances. From the late 1960s he played in a trio with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove, which became a duo after Van Hove’s departure in 1976. Through much of the 1990s he played in Clusone 3 (also known as the Clusone Trio), a trio with saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore and cellist Ernst Reijseger. He has often played duos with Mengelberg and collaborated with him alongside other musicians.

As well as playing with these long-standing groups, Bennink has performed and recorded solo (Tempo Comodo (1982) being among his solo recordings) and played with many free improvisation and free jazz luminaries including Derek Bailey, Conny Bauer, Don Cherry and Alexander von Schlippenbach, as well as more conventional jazz musicians like Lee Konitz.

Bennink’s style is wide-ranging, running from conventional jazz drumming to highly unconventional free improvisation, for which he often uses whatever objects happen to be onstage (chairs, music stands, instrument cases), his own body (a favourite device involves putting a drumstick in his mouth and striking it with the other stick), and the entire performance space — the floor, doors, and walls. He makes frequent use of birdcalls and whatever else strikes his fancy (one particularly madcap performance in Toronto in the 1990s involved a deafening fire alarm bell placed on the floor). He is also a talented multi-instrumentalist, and on occasion his recordings have featured his playing on clarinet, violin, banjo and piano. Han is the brother of the saxophonist Peter Bennink.


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