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The Laughing Owl

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Album Review

This could also be called "The Laughing Musicians." Placing free jazz drum king Han Bennink into an Amsterdam studio with anarchist experimental punk guitarist Terrie Ex is a risky move. While Amsterdam's the Ex have been quite experimental in their approach to punk rock — even recording with the late Tom Cora — a go-for-it duet improv session with a drummer on Bennink's level could have proved to be disastrous. Instead, it turned out to be an afternoon of pure genius. Ex and Bennink understand the limitations of their situation, and that the lion's share of the improv's flow is on Bennink. They relax into that, and Terrie Ex goes about trying not so much to play over or in counterpart to Bennink, but to fill out the necessary sonic corridors to make the percussions appear more effectively in the front of the session. Ex is out of his league, and Bennink knows it — so does Terrie. Therefore, the senior drummer stretches his counterpart's concepts of spontaneous composition and sonic interdependency. There are seams here to be sure, but that's what creates the odd, uncompromising beauty of this set. Over 17 selections — that all sound like part of one large performance, dynamics and guerilla string tactics are employed for the sake of riding a rhythm style so densely layered it might have existed plainly on its own here. Where Ex lays out and allows Bennink to solo for long periods, it's not because he hasn't any ideas — it's that he's marveling at the flow of Bennink's. And this is beautiful to behold on a record: one musician's education at the hands of another that creates, in the process, a deeply moving and viable work of caterwauling intensity and irrepressible good humor. Highly recommended.


Born: April 17, 1942 in Zaandam, The Netherlands

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

In the niche-oriented world of major-league jazz, it's almost unfashionable to be so multi-faceted a player as Han Bennink. Bennink is one of the unfortunately rare musicians whose abilities and interests span the music's entire spectrum, from Dixieland to free. His straight-ahead playing is absolutely convincing -- his time is solid, his sense of swing strong, and his technique flawless. He also possesses the requisite qualities of a free jazz virtuoso; Bennink's ability to interact quickly and...
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The Laughing Owl, Han Bennink
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