|Rein de Graaff is a man of contrasts. He is one of Europe's foremost jazz musicians, but he describes himself as "a jazz fan who happens to play the piano." He turned down many offers to go on tour with American stars like Sonny Stiff and Archie Shepp because he has not much time to travel; he is a businessman on weekdays who gigs only in the weekends.
He will explain to you at length that he considers himself a jazz musician rather than a pianist: "I don't play the piano like a pianist does. I comp like a drummer and play single-note lines like a horn player." However, he has recorded some of the most fluent, swinging and beautiful piano solos I've ever heard in the Low Countries.
The most astonishing aspect of Rein's artistry is his understanding of the bebop language. He is almost entirely self-taught as a pianist and has been living most of his life in a small town in the north of the Netherlands. But when he visited New York for the first time as a young man, he felt at home right away. At a jamsession in Harlem, a big fat mamma from this black neighbourhood hugged him warmly, with tears in her eyes. "You sound like a black man!", she shouted. This was obviously the highest praise that could possibly be bestowed on Rein.
Although it may sound weird, it is perhaps his jazz fan status that makes him sound so consistently inspired and professional. He makes music because he loves to do it and for no other reason. Music is for him, to quote Zoot Sims, "serious fun". He always plays with at least a hundred per cent dedication.
On this record, you hear what Rein does: playing bebop piano. While listening to the duo-tracks with Rein's favourite pianist, bebop master Barry Harris, you will notice how much they sound alike. Their solos are characterized by clarity: each phrase is a small melody with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Rein plays the first seven choruses in Au Privave, Barry the next five. Then they alternate eight choruses, followed by 'fours' until the last theme. In the next tune, you hear
Rein play Nostalgia and Barry Casbah, two tunes based on the chords of Out of Nowhere. Barry plays two choruses, Rein the next two. Then they take half a chorus each, they alternate 'eights' for one chorus, followed by a chorus of 'fours'.
Another passion of Rein's is the musical world of Lennie Tristano, the legendary pianist, composer and guru of the cool school who died in 1978 at the age of 59. In four tracks, he plays with two alto saxophonists who know a thing or two about Tristano's concept: Gary Foster from LA (right channel) and Marco Kegel, a 22-year-old from Holland. Their collective improvisations will remind you of Warne Marsh and Lee Komtz, Tristano's great saxophone team.
As usual, the themes are complicated lines, based on standards. Tristano used to say: "That's our link to the people." Ablution is All the Things You Are, Lennie's Pennies is Pennies from Heaven (in a minor key, for a change), Dreamstepper is You Stepped out of a Dream and Subconcious-Lee is What Is this Thing Called Love. The rhythm section is once again Koos Serierse (bass) and Eric Ineke (drums). They have been working with Rein for almost twenty years.
In the first five tracks, Rein is featured soloist with the Metropole Orchestra. The arrangements, written by Dolf de Vries (Alone Together, Rob Pronk (How High the Moon, I Cover the Waterfront), Henk Meutgeert (Afternoon in Paris) and Lex Jasper (Cherokee), are just right for this combination: relaxed and inspiring. They give the rhythm section room to swing, allow the horns and strings to phrase as one man, and Rein to improvise freely at great length.
Rein sounds as if he has been working with these experienced studio musicians for a hundred years. Listen to him playing bebop piano. He is brilliant.
†- Jeroen de Valk
Recorded: 30 AND 31 MAY 1994