Blue Lines Sextet | Live at the BIMhuis
Jan Nijdam Kwartet | Bij de Dieren Thuis
Andy Hamilton

Bij De Dieren Thuis means "At The Animals’ House", though apparently something's lost in translation – song-titles are also mostly in Dutch. Live at the Bimhuis is more Anglophone, but both albums are very Dutch in ethos. That implies an anarchistic, irreverent, absurdist wit, improvisational freedom, and theatrical presentation – something to do with the Netherlands being (along with Britain) the 17th century home of liberty.
There's a touch of genius about both these highly individual and inventive albums. A second common factor, apart from Dutchness, is pianist Michiel Scheen. It's not surprising you've not heard of him – he hides his light under a bushel, and during the last decade, disappeared from the scene altogether for three years. Scheen isn't just a musician's musician – he's a musician's musician's musician. He studied with Misha Mengelberg at Amsterdam's Sweelinck Conservatory, and his work has been described as "post-Monk, post-Mengelberg".
Replacing Guus Janssen in the Maarten Altena Octet, he joined the Blue Lines Trio in 2012 with founder Raoul van de Weide (bass) and George Hadow (drums). It was the resourceful bassist who got Scheen “out of the shadows” that year.

"I think up musical sketches that lead to improvisations, and George and Raoul make it a gesamtwerk [complete work]",Scheen comments. That leads us to a further common factor in the two discs – structure against freedom. Often plangent, groove-based thematic material is juxtaposed with passages or tracks of free improvisation. For Live at the BIMhuis the Trio becomes a Sextet, with Ada Rave (tenor saxophone), Bart Maris (trumpets) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone). Scheen wrote six tracks – the remainder are free improvisations, plus two jazz standards by Haden and Mingus.
They interpret Haden’s “Silence”, one of his most intriguing creations, not quite with the usual stately melancholy – there is a hint of the absurd in the wavering vibrato. Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" – his tribute to Lester Young - also gets a maverick interpretation, with the theme stated only at the end.
Bij De Dieren Thuis is less anarchic, and if anything more captivating. It features leader Jan Nijdam on bass, Scheen on piano, Tobias Delius on saxophone and clarinet, and Alan Purves on drum. The compositions are melodically rich, and particularly memorable are "Spago Legato", "Scherpe Randjes", and "Het Zwarte Pad". "Whimsical Elf" shows off Delius's fluffy-toned, Jimmy Giuffre-like clarinet, on which he has a gorgeous chalumeau register.The disc ends with a little humorous post-production – the musicians talking, against a few musical sounds. These are exceptionally modest musicians. I'm not sure they realise how good they are.