Jan Nijdam Kwartet | Bij de Dieren Thuis
Kevin Whitehead

For his quartet heard on Bij de Dieren Thuis – rough translation: With the Animals at Home – bassist Jan Nijdam tapped old friends from school days, pianist Michiel Scheen, and tenor saxist and clarinetist Tobias Delius, who now lives in Berlin but is ever-entangled with Amsterdam. The drummer is Edinburgh-born Alan Purves, aka Gunga, a local fixture since the ‘70s, and a frequent collaborator with cellist Ernst Reijseger. (Like Felicity Provan, Gunga also works the street-theater end of the improvisers’ continuum.) Purves is a singular figure: a drummer with no fixed equipment set-up, the better to avoid falling into patterns, who’s as happy tippy-tapping as going KA-BLAM, who likes noisemaking toys, and who sounds especially confident and focused here. You can tell how well-drilled the players are from the in-pocket drum parts alone. To these ears Bij de Dieren Thuis is one of the sleepers of 2017, the composing and playing both on a very high level. Nijdam assembled the band in 2011, but didn’t record them till five years later. By then there were so many good tunes in the book he could be almost cavalier about it: 'Scherpe Randjes' (Sharp Edges), introduced by a long collective improvisa-tion, gets around to its lovely melody only in the final minutes. There is a whiff of Mengelberg to some of Nijdam’s compositional conceits - the chamber-music interruptus of 'Cute Gallery', echoes of Monk ('Ad Nasum' as paraphrase of 'Rhythm-a-ning'), a wistful clarinet tune, gorgeusly played ('Whimsical Elf') - and in the

bumptious collectives. Nijdam’s catchy hooks repeat just enough and no more.The ICP’s Orchestra’s Delius serving as Nijdam’s lead voice forces the Misha connection, but these pieces stand on their own. Delius has long been on a hot streak; other fine recent releases include the scrappers’ duo Dicht (Relative Pitch) with drummer Christian Lillinger and trio Booklet’s The 100% Rabbit (Jedso), South African tunes and more with Joe Williamson and Steve Heather. But Nijdam’s warm or quirky tunes showcase Toby’s furry tone and melodic eruptions especially well. They make his case as successor to another wise old Amsterdammer, styles-spanning lustrous-sounding tenor Don Byas. Nijdam also gives Delius a couple opportunities to spume in a mid-‘60s Coltrane way (“Spago Legato,” “Weerga und Wiederweerga”), one musical trend Misha never could abide.
In the ‘80s, Michiel Scheen followed Guus Janssen into Maarten Altena’s Ensemble, and stayed eight years; he used his anvil attack to good advantage there and in Paul Termos’s bands. But Michiel combines struck iron with a taste for economical voicings: he doesn’t play more than he needs to. During the more open improvising, he may keep the melody going some kind of way even when the harmony gets impacted; he’ll stop or scrape piano strings by hand or drape something over them, to scuff up his timbral palette. The bassist leader doesn’t often favor himself in the mix, or give himself showy solos, or put himself out front in the collectives. Jan Nijdam wants to be all the way inside his vibrant little ensemble.