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Members include AndyAltenfelder, (born June 7) trumpet;WillemBreuker, (born November 4, 1944, Amsterdam, The Netherlands), sax, clarinet, recorder, vocals; AlexCoke, (born November 13) sax, flute, piccolo, kazoo, whistle, vocals; Henk de Jonge, (born December 14), piano, synthesizer;HermineDeurloo, (born March 8), sax, harmonica; ArjenGorter, (born January 2) bass; BermardHunnekink, (born November 1), trombone; NicoNijholt, (born May 2), trombone; BoyRaaymakers, (born August 20), trumpet, ukele, vocals; Lorre LynnTrytten, (born December 25) violin, musical saw; RobVerdurmen, (born March 20), drums, percussion; numerous other musicians over the years. Addresses: Record company--VHAAST Records, 99 Prinseneiland, 1013 LN Amsterdam, Holland. Phone: 020-6239799 E-mail: e-mail: wbk@xs4all.nl.

The Willem Breuker Kollektief is a musical snake that can shed its skin at the drop of a hat. The group moves effortlessly from swing rhythms reminiscent of Stan Kenton, to tributes to spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone, to stately tangos by Kurt Weill, to Philip Glass-style minimalist pieces, to arrangements worthy of 1930s musicals sung by Breuker himself, into honkin' free jazz improvisations. And all on a single album, Bob's Gallery! All the Kollektief's records are full of such musical surprises. But throughout its explorations, the group maintains its own musical personality. Part of that personality is its sense of humor. You never know when a solemn Glass ostinato will be interrupted by the burp of a tuba or an aria by a gargling diva.

Tenor saxophonist Willem Breuker was born in Amsterdam, Holland on November 4, 1944, during the last days of the Second World War. As a school boy he took up the clarinet, then the soprano sax, and in the early 1960s fell under the spell of Ornette Coleman's music. He achieved a small measure of notoriety in the Netherlands in 1966 while he was leading a 23 piece ensemble at the Loosdrecht Jazz Competition. During the performance he pointedly dedicated one of his compositions to a student who had been killed not long before in a demonstration. The gesture came at a time when lines were being drawn increasingly between old and young, and between conservative, liberal and radical. It was also shocking because until then, no Dutch musician had overtly aligned his art with politics.

Social upheaval was sweeping Europe like the rest of the world. At the same time a remarkable flowering was occurring in European jazz. Among the musicians getting started then were saxist Evan Parker and guitarist Derek Bailey in Britain, saxist Peter Brötzmann and pianist Alex von Schlippenbach in Germany, drummer Han Bennink in Holland. And the music was often fierce, in your face jazz, like nothing ever heard before, fired on by the student protests sweeping the continent, that reached a high point when Brötzmann's earth-shattering improv LP Machine Gun was recorded in the revolutionary month of May 1968.

Willem Breuker was a member of the all-star ensemble that played on Machine Gun, and he composed one of the three pieces that appeared on the album. Although he proved himself a formidable improviser, Breuker soon began moving away from free jazz to concentrate on

Breuker met Han Bennink in 1966 and together with pianist Misha Mengelberg, they formed the Instant Composer's Pool (ICP). It was with the ICP that Breuker's ideas about doing music collectively began. The ICP fell apart in 1973 following disagreements between members. Breuker left and formed the Kollektief. "It's pretty anachronistic ," Breuker told Mike Zwerin of the International Herald Tribune, "a holdover from my socialist days in Amsterdam in the '60s and '70s." Whatever its roots, the Kollektief served a number of purposes. For one thing it suited Breuker's style of composition. As he developed, he found his music becoming more complex than the average jazz combo could handle. "I write too many notes," Breuker explained to Greg Baise of the Metro Times, "I cannot play my music with three or four musicians. I need more musicians."

Being a collective also helped minimize personal problems that have destroyed many a band. Most importantly it helped prevent destructive competition from developing between the players. "There is no hierarchy, no stars," Breuker told New City, "Everybody earns the same and has equal say in how band money is spent. I am 54 but the newest, youngest member gets paid the same I do." The atmosphere created by the group also drew the players closer together too. Zwerin. "We are not employees, we are members," he told Zwerin, "to make music with close friends well, that is our own good luck."

Being a collective also enabled the group to cut the costs of operating a large performing ensemble. On tour, the Kollektief musicians do everything themselves, from unloading their bus, to setting up and tearing down. The group does not have to employ any roadies; the only employee who tours with them is their bus driver. The idea worked. By the 1980s the Kollektief was successful enough to afford its own touring bus, and a rehearsal hall and offices in Amsterdam, and even its own record company, BVHaast. The name translates to Haste Inc.--Willem Breuker is not a man who likes to waste time.

But the collective identity extends only as far as music-making is concerned. The members of the Kollektief live in their own homes, not communally, and when they are on the road together each has her or his own room. Breuker has even admitted he has never even seen where some of his musicians live. But some distance is necessary considering the group is on the road together for 100 or more gigs a year. The Kollektief arrangements must work 25 years later a number of its founding members were still playing with the group.

And then there is the music, the often indescribably music the Kollektief plays. It's usually called "jazz" and when their records can be found in record stores, they are somewhere between Anthony Braxton and Dave Brubeck. But their jazz is a European variant that owes as much to Stravinsky as Duke Ellington. One of their records, for example. features a ballet by Erik Satie, "Parade," arranged by Breuker for the Kollektief. The 1999 CD Hunger features an aria from Rossini's Barber of Seville that eventually veers into Monty Python territory alongside powerful jazz solos by various Kollektief members and a version of "Yes We Have No Bananas" straight out of vaudeville. In truth, the Kollektief is an ensemble that refuses to be hemmed in by narrow categories like jazz, pop, or classical music. "I don't believe in music that comes out of a book," Breuker told Zwerin. "I don't believe in music made for musicians. My music is for old people, young people, city people farmers, for every social class music accessible to everybody." Breuker himself labeled his music "Human Being Music music made by and for humans and once said he thought it was probably good for one's health.

The Kollektief's closet musical relative, in spirit if not style, may be Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Like Sun Ra's band, the Kollektief is made up of talented improvisers who at the same time are highly disciplined ensemble players who have mastered a wide range of musical styles. Like Sun Ra, the Kollektief's leader Breuker is a brilliant composer and arranger as well as a talented instrumentalist. Both groups have built careers on deflating expectations. And, of course, Arkestra members didlive communally.

The sense of humor present in the Kollektief's work, especially live, sets it apart from many other jazz groups. It might express itself as subtly as the oom-pah of a tube gently intruding on Philip Glass or as broadly as a Rossini aria, sung in rather low sounding Dutch and punctuated by a sneeze from the singer. Some critics complain about the Kollektief's shenanigans, especially in 1999 when the trombonist took to falling to his knees in concert and barking like a dog. But deadly serious jazz can be heard in clubs and festivals the world over. "We have always incorporated theatrics as our distinctive style," Breuker told Coda's Bill Besecker. I think we are independent from styles or directions or fashion. We just do what we can do.... I don't want to copy people."

The Kollektief has toured steadily for the better part of two decades. In 1990, Breuker said he believed it was the last band in Europe that tours constantly. To highlight the fact, the publicity photo on the occasion of the Kollektief's 25th anniversary showed them standing in front of their bus. And Breuker is proud of the fact that that the group can and has played in all kinds of circumstances. "I can play anywhere in the world," he told Baise, "We've played in small cellars for 16 people. But we've also played in the street for 35,000 people, like in Italy and Montreal and Toronto. I don't care at all. We just play. And we're a band that can come to a pace and [be ready to] play in ten minutes."

As the year 2000 started, the Kollektief had eleven members, two of whom were American-- tenor player Alex Coke and violinist Lorre Lynn Trytten. Coming off their 25th anniversary year, they were still mourning the death of member Peter Barkema at the end of 1998, but moving into the future in best Breuker style, touring the United States for the tenth time.

by Gerald Brennan

Willem Breuker Kollektief's Career

Formed Instant Composer's Pool (ICP) with Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg, 1966; performed on Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun, 1968; ICP disbanded, 1973; Breuker formed Willem Breuker Kollektief, 1974; Kollektief celebrated 25th anniversary, 1999.

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