Post Scriptum is the second ECM release by the jazz quartet formed by Dutch pianist Wolfert Brederode. The other musicians are clarinetist Claudio Puntin, who also performs on bass clarinet, Mats Eilertsen on bass, and drummer Samuel Rohrer, who also plays drums for Colin Vallon’s trio. Almost all of the compositions are by Brederode, although every member of the group is responsible for at least one track.
The composition entitled “Post Scriptum” actually receives two different performances on the album. The press advance material quotes Brederode on his reason for naming the entire CD after this work:
I believe that quite often very important messages are contained in the short postscript added to a long letter.
It is unclear just what this signifies, other than that both “Post Scriptum” tracks are shorter in duration than most of the other tracks on the recording. If anything, it amounts to a rather aimless meditation on lord-only-knows-what, which, in many ways is more consistent with the title of the first track (also by Brederode), “Meander.”
To appreciate what this music is doing (or not doing), it helps to place it in a historical perspective. During the middle of the last century, following the Second World War, Europe provided far more opportunities for jazz performers than the United States did. As a result, what came to be called “modern jazz” was very much a product of American expatriates working out their ideas at gigs in European clubs. This led to the emergence of what is now called “free jazz” from performers such as Ornette Coleman; but it also led to a fair amount of “old-school pushback,” much of which was as critical of European culture as of the American experimenters.
Consider, for example, the interview that Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis gave to Art Taylor when Taylor was collecting material for the book he would later publish as Notes and Tones. Here is a sample of Davis’ venting:
So they [it seems discreet to omit the names cited in the previous sentence] came over here [the interview took place in Paris in 1970] maybe as adventurers, experimenting. European musicians are not that familiar with the working of jazz, how it comes about or how it takes on different shapes, and they accepted it as part of a new form of music. The critics wrote that this was a new art form, and they liked it.
That “working of jazz” involved fundamentals such as knowing how to swing and, as Ron Carter put it in his own interview with Taylor, coming up with phrases that audiences would remember. Both Davis and Carter are still alive; and I imagine that, were they to listen to this recording, they would go back to the same grumblings that Taylor had documented.
One might say that this is less jazz as “chamber music by other means” and more just “other means” for improvisatory chamber music. In that respect one of Carter’s observations in Notes and Tones is as applicable to chamber music as it is to jazz:
You can play as free as you want, only you should have some kind of musical background to relate to this freedom.
Consider now what Brederode said about “Hybrids,” the one composition by Rohrer on this album:
Samuel’s experience of writing for theatre and dance has helped him, I think, in finding unusual shapes for ensemble music.
It is hard to believe that this sentence was informed by the experience of listening to this particular track. “Hybrids” is probably the most formally structured (and, therefore, least meandering) selection on the album. Basically, it is a chaconne that could probably have fit just as comfortably into the musical practices of Henry Purcell (to chose a composer recently considered on this site) as into those of a jazz combo. The embellishments that emerge in the course of Rohrer’s chaconne may not be as traditional as those we find in Purcell’s score; and they probably even twist around in “unusual shapes.” However, they are ultimately models of invention within very strict formal conventions. Brederode does not seem to “get” this, perhaps because he lacks the sort of “musical background” that old-school types like Carter valued so highly. (I happen to find Carter an excellent model for thinking about jazz, particularly after hearing his own recording, on which he improvised a bass line under a string orchestra playing all three movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1048, the third of the “Brandenburg” concertos.)
I would like to humbly submit that, if Brederode spent a bit more time focusing on the fundamentals of listening, his music might spend a lot less time leaving one with that sense of meandering.