Bik Bent Braam Growing Pains

Bik Bent Braam is a 13-piece big band, helmed by Dutch pianist Michiel Braam, which specialises in head spinning avant-traditionalist jazz. As with Ellington, the charts are constantly subject to revision and renegotiation — often right on the stand, where the players peck at them like a flock of magpies. Miniature themes (Braam calls them "bonsai”) are stitched together on the fly into zigzag hour-long phantasmagorias where Earl Hines sits next to Fats Domino, calypso next to tango, salon waltz next to grungy rock, and somehow the whole thing just about makes sense. The band features familiar heroes of the Dutch scene like saxophonist/clarinettist Frank Gratkowski, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and cornetist Eric Boeren, as well as less celebrated players like saxophonists Bart van der Putten and Frans Vermeerssen, who both get in some beautiful, razor-edged solos; Braam himself goes from chandelier-crash piano to genial Monkisms without batting an eye. The usual Dutch sense of humour is in evidence throughout, though more elusive and sardonic than the stylised mayhem of kindred groups like the ICP Orchestra or Willem Breuker Kollektief. The results are colourful and tremendously enjoyable: Growing Pains’ fleetness and spontaneity leaves most other big band discs in the dust. (Independent)