The now retired trio of Michael Moore, Ernst Reijseger and Han Bennink typify what Kevin Whitehead aptly termed the "New Dutch Swing." Like Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra (with whom they have all played), they are capable of carrying schtick, sap, sentiment and excellence at the same time, remarkably without letting any one element cancel another out. And in this modern world, there may be no finer way to demonstrate that balancing act than the Irving Berlin songbook.
Soft Lights and Sweet Music — recorded in 1993 and now available again through Hat Hut — is an uproariously entertaining set of songs by a man who is not just an American master but created a particular kind of Americana. Like the Georges Gershwin and M. Cohan, Berlin penned a style so pervasive that its influence is still heard today, in all its corny glory, on Broadway and Muzak and American Idol. Among the 18 tunes chosen by the Clusones are "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," "They Say It's Wonderful," "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "White Christmas." The trio needs no singer. The slightest whisper of the melody from Moore's clarinet sets the listeners brain unwittingly singing along.
The irrepressible Dutch humor is, of course, in evidence. The title track is also the opener here, and is taken as a challenge, rendered like a Q-beam and a foghorn. And throughout, of course, there are crack-ups and breakdowns, but that's hardly central to the project. Reijseger's cello handles the roles of both bass and guitar, filling out the rhythm section, but his focus is no less intent than on his powerful solo concerts. Moore's clarinet can fly like a drunken gnat during the free passages, but he also has a singular ability to play simple melodies as convincingly as any singer (check his takes on Bob Dylan with the trio Jewels and Binoculars). And anyone who hasn't gotten two or three degrees past Bennink's antics to hear him as one of the swingingest drummers around period needs to check back.
It would have been easy for these three to play the overly familiar melodies for laughs, and to treat the more obscure titles as jazz heads to vamp upon. But Clusone 3 is too smart for that. They, with all respect, make Berlin their own.
Comments and Feedback: