Joost Buis And Astronotes: Controlled Anarchy

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Joost Buis and Astrotones

Joost Buis' tunes are clean and true, and still let weird details nibble at the edges on Zoomin'. Monique Baan hide caption

itoggle caption Monique Baan

In the mid-1990s, trombonist Joost Buis put together a little big band called The Astronotes, which played often at community centers in Amsterdam. At first, they performed the music of intergalactic free-jazz bandleader Sun Ra. They only began recording nearly a decade later, after Buis had begun writing for the band himself. Their latest is called Zoomin.

Most of the tentet's original members are still around after 15 years, and know how to work with and around each other. Buis' pieces don't sound much like the cosmic music of his onetime inspiration Sun Ra, but he learned something from the master about repetition and variation, and how to build music in layers that diverge and converge.

Bandleader Buis also learned a lot from Duke Ellington pieces; like Ellington, he gives his players a long leash, the better to involve them in the creative process. In Buis' tune, "Zest for a Zizz," he suggests the opulence of Ellington's dozen horns by skillfully arraying The Astronotes' five winds in background and foreground roles. Horns include cornet player Felicity Provan and the rapturously breathy tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius.

Coming up in Amsterdam, and working for some of the city's top bandleaders, Joost Buis and his Astronotes were exposed to myriad approaches to contemporary music-making. His piece "Icy" borders on a genial parody of the chugging saxophones and mysterious pauses found in some severe Dutch concert music.

Buis picked up good composing tips from some former employers. Willem Breuker taught him about making 10 pieces sound like more by keeping everyone busy all the time. He learned about booting his soloists with a catchy vamp tune from Sean Bergin. Guus Janssen showed him how different themes in a piece can collide, or interrupt each other in a friendly way.

Controlled anarchy is a code these Astronotes fly by. They play Joost Buis' tunes clean and true, and still let weird details nibble at the edges. That sort of despoiling playfulness typifies a lot of Holland's improvised music: Just because you're serious doesn't mean you have to be so serious all the time.

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