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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 in 2003, after Buis begun writing for the band himself.

The Astronotes' second album is now out. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Trombonist Joost Buis' Dutch-German-Scottish-Australian-American band, The Astronotes. Some acting up there by drummers Alan Purves and Michael Vatcher, and guitarist Paul Pallesen. That's from The Astronotes' CD "Zoomin," on the Dado label.

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 the music in layers that diverge and converge.

(Soundbite of song, "Zest for a Zizz")

WHITEHEAD: Bandleader Joost Buis also learned a lot from Duke Ellington pieces. Like Duke, he gives his players a long leash, the better to involve them in the creative process. On 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.

(Soundbite of song, "Zest for a Zizz")

WHITEHEAD: 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.

(Soundbite of song, "Icy")

WHITEHEAD: Buis picked up good composing tips from some former employers. Willem Breuker taught him about making 10 pieces sound like more by keeping everybody busy all the time. And 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.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: 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.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for He reviewed "Zoomin," the new album by Joost Buis and Astronotes on the Dado record label.

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