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Deon: Soft Steel

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Deon: Soft Steel
Deon photograph © by Allard Willemse
Deon: Soft Steel
Deon photograph © by Allard Willemse

It seems anachronistic that the closer you get to the Arctic Circle the more rarefied the air. It would seem that this also has a dramatic impact on the music spun like magical gossamer thread in the minds of musicians born into that charmed circle. Composer and contrabassist Dion Nijland certainly lends credence to that theory. His work with the ensemble Talking Cows alone proves that. However, Mr Nijland is so much more visible [playing in more than a dozen contemporary, experimental Dutch ensembles] despite coming from faraway Utrecht, the culturally fabled province in Netherlands. The bassist’s hometown was, since the Middle Ages, one of the greatest seats of religion and learning, celebrated also for its world-renowned Utrecht University, which was established in early 1636.

Being more worldly wise than many musicians [he has travelled and played in countries as far removed as The Netherlands is from India, Iraq and Bolivia] has given Mr Nijland a musical world view that is filled with left-field irony, tinged with off-the-wall Dutch humour. This, combined with conservatoire musical discipline, insolent virtuosity on his charmed instrument and a death-defying daring that makes him seemingly risk his very life for every note. Despite his compositions being informed by such disparate characteristics, his music is unusually tempered; controlled to such a fine degree, and so riveting that should you turn your attention away for even a short time you may miss a key phrase and thereby lose a kind of precious experience of a lifetime.

The name of the album [and its eleventh song] Soft Steel, is of course, a metaphor for the malleability and proverbial toughness of both the metal in question. The album begins with Karl May a song with a propulsive stop-and-start marching rhythm informed by the gravitas of Mr Nijland’s contrabass, the rattle and hum of the drums by Mees Siderius, redolent of all manner of radiant, bell-like melodic notes that gather momentum with harmonic cut and thrust of bass clarinet by Steven Kamperman, lines full of liquid glissandos by saxophonist Ad Colen and a howling trumpet by Ruben Drenth. All of this in celebration of the itinerant German novelist, Karl May whose fabulous fin de siècle Western-themed adventures seem to set the tone for Mr Nijland and his quintet whose name is Deon, an unsurprisingly quirky homophonic play on the leader’s own name.

There is something uniquely exciting about listening to a group of keen young musicians devouring difficult, but exciting music whole, which is precisely what the members of Deon do throughout this repertoire. The whole programme is hugely enterprising with melodies and harmonic accompaniments released in quantum packets of energy, each with so much imagination as to be both surprising and mysterious at the same time. As to the rhythmic elements, just cue to the opening seconds of Slagkracht, [or let the song Riddum roll from start to finish] and you will be dazzled by how Mr Nijland and Mr Siderius invoke savage cut and thrust in their kicking syncopations.

This impressive force is maintained throughout the repertoire and invoked not only by the rhythmists, but also the other performers – the saxophonist, clarinettist, and trumpeter as well. The music also swings intermittently punctuating the melodic and harmonic lines at just the right time to avoid any tedium that may come with too much [melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic] experimentalism. And yet musical arrythmia [cue On the Contrary] is key throughout this set, the drummer embellishing the music, when you least expect it with gleaming notes played on the vibraphone [as on Slagkracht], for instance].

Throughout this irrepressibly energetic set it is not simply Mr Nijland who delivers in spades [for the rumbling sound quality of his instrument – especially evident on the song Shivu – is very good too]. From end to end this is not repertoire aimed at making the listener relax. Here the motto is most definitely: None shall sleep…!

Deo gratis…

Music – 1: Karl May; 2: Bogerous; 3: Lost in the Woods; 4: Silent Steal; 5: Deun; 6: On the Contrary; 7: Slagkracht; 8: Wiegelied; 9: Riddum; 10: Shivu; 11: Soft Steel; 12: Takis.

Musicians – Dion Nijland: compositions and contrabass; Ruben Drenth: trumpet; Steven Kamperman: clarinets; Ad Colen: saxophones; Mees Siderius: drums and vibraphone.

Released – 2023
Label – Trytone [TT-559-097]
Runtime – 1:00:23

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