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What a romance

Steven Loewy, All Music Guide

A much stronger effort than his earlier Dance of the Penguins, What a Romance features a more confident, mature, and gruff-sounding Chris Abelen on trombone -- who not only leads but does so in glorious style. The trombonist has expanded his technical abilities without sacrificing the distinct primitive tonal qualities that make his blowing so attractive. Abelen shares the front line with the talented tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, but it may be the atmospheric punches of Corrie van Binsbergen on electric guitar that make the greatest impression (other than that of the trombonist). Van Binsbergen adds a rock-inflected stride that contrasts handily with the tightly constructed lines of the horns. Also, the compositions are perfect for the displays of all the members of the quintet. As Kevin Whitehead notes in his succinct liners, Abelen writes "short pithy themes" and "undulating arrangements" that give rise to lots of opportunities to stretch out on the solos. With bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Charles Huffstadt firmly holding the bottom, the 13 relatively short tracks comprising this recording (none more than six minutes) offer finely crafted statements that let each member strut his stuff to fine advantage.
Dance of the Penguins

John Corbett - Down Beat, April 1997

On his debut as a frontman, Dutch trombonist Abelen's terse, potent compositions serve as seed bed for his band's economical improvisations, and his deft players cultivate some very special flora, indeed.
Most exciting is tenor saxist Tobias Delius, who's been on the scene awhile but doesn't care much about recording. He's got a Ben Webster/Archie Shepp sound: big, breathy, supple, able to toy most delightfully with time.
Delius is featured over pedal tones on "Delay," just before Corrie van Binsbergen breaks out with a nasty electric guitar solo. Charles Huffstadt's march drums on "Who's Next" recall Henry Threadgill's Sextet, but this group's got a wholly original sound. The leader's a fine melodist, as well, and bassist Wilbert de Joode wields an enviable high-action, matte-timbre sound.


Jean Buzelin - Jazzman Magazine [France] - Grand Disque

Trombonist, composer and arranger Chris Abelen studied with Willem van Manen, discreetly standing in for him in the Willem Breuker Kollektief in the mid 1980s. As a musician he prefers working intensively with a regular band. His current quintet has been performing for ten years and the three CDs from that period convey a clear picture of the development the ensemble has gone through, as well as their attention to detail and fabulous ensemble playing. The contribution of the Zapp! string quartet - as featured on their CD "Chamber Grooves", Trytone 559-021 - enables him to show off all of his qualities: his sumptuous and refined style of writing, his masterful ability to create a sound balance, which is a result of the sophisticated relationship between opposing instruments and tone colours, without employing pompous and excessive instrumentation. This game of contrasts yields wonderful results, for example when the strings play 'softly', much like chamber music, while a piercing clarinet or a hard funky guitar is thrown against it. So much sophisticated subtlety could easily lead to a loss of tension, but as the leader of the band is well aware of this danger, he gives plenty of room for elaborate solos to develop in these thirteen pieces. What a relief to be able to breathe and stroll around freely in a 'space' that is not unnecessarily cluttered. There is no need for excessive loudness, as the clarity of the performance enables the listener to hear every single detail of what is on offer. A virtue only too easily forgotten in contemporary orchestral jazz. Chris Abelen has undeniably reached a very high standard.



Imagine the Art Ensemble Of Chicago jamming with Duke Ellington and the Willem Breuker Collective, injecting their jam with elements from the New Orleans funk, blues and brass band music, and you'll get a pretty good picture of what this CD by this Dutch trombone player sounds like.
On this CD he is accompanied by some great musicians like Eric Boeren on trumpet, Larry Fishkind on the tuba and Corrie van Binsbergen on guitar.
The result is a very tight free jazz big band in which all members have all freedom to perform their solos over the on-going basic melodies.
The songs all come from live recordings from 1992, during the Klap Of The Vuurpijl festival but they don't sound dated at all.
"Modder" sounds like a weird New Orleans street parade band. The song has a stumbling rhythm in which the stubborn horns have all freedom. Plenty of soulful sax solos here. The song keeps its lazy New Orleans funk feel, despite the stubborn character of the song.
"Bus" is a speedy brass band track with plenty of squeaking and battling horns.
"Proost" sounds like a drunk big band, swaying all over the place. Plenty of screaming sax solos over a bopping backing.
"Sem" has some staccato clockwork rhythms and a biting funky guitar solo.
The songs goes from festive to very atmospheric.
"Bob In China" is a Chinese free jazz melody with some beautiful horns.
This CD offers the creme de la creme of Dutch adventurous free jazz.

Koen Schouten
De Volkskrant

One does not hear from trombonist Chris Abelen very often, but whenever the former member of Contraband and the Willem Breuker Kollektief makes his appearance, he always succeeds in making up for lost time. In his fourth CD his quintet joins forces with the ZAPP! string quartet and reed player Ab Baars. Together they perform Abelen's own, pleasantly short pieces with a free and screeching part for Baars and a both original and fulfilling contribution by the strings. Though the music is catchy, it is nonetheless unconventional.
What a romance

Tobias Bocker
Jazzpodium, 7/8 - 2000

The Dutch trombonist Chris Abelen has chosen an individually hand-picked group to realize his improvised vision of romanticism and freedom. His Dream Team consists of Tobias Delius, ts, Corrie van Binsbergen, winner of the Dutch national jazz prize, eg, Wilbert de Joode, b and Charles Huffstadt, dr. Short, spare themes present the platform for not too extended open improvisations whose rhythmic and melodic structures can relate to the theme, although they permit any amount of personal wanderings, dialogue-like orientation adventures and common exploration of the stars. Abelen plays a scintillatiing trombone, Corrie van Binsbergen coaxes magnificently nostalgic wah-wah sounds from her guitar, Tobias Delius creates with his saxophone again and again the most surprising turnabouts. Wilbert de Joode defines musical space in a masterly manner, and Charles Huffstadt shows himself to be a thorough melody-conscious drummer.
All in all, this live CD never conveys a hectic pulse, the music breathes quietly, plays with the tempo, expands and compresses it, displaces the connections, but is always conscious of the fixed center of relations whose authority never gets entirely lost.

What a romance

Peter Margasak
Jazz Times, August 2000

One of the unalloyed joys of contemporary Dutch jazz is the way its musicians take such delight in contextualized chaos. To the scene's finest musicians, improvisation isn't merely a set of prescribed tactics and patterns for dealing with specific chord changes, but an eagerness to spontaneously make something out of a fleeting set of circumstances.
The members of trombonist Chris Abelen's quintet know their scales, but they can also navigate unfamiliar surroundings. While the music on his second album, What a Romance, isn't as unwieldy as that produced by his Dutch precursors like Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker - with whom Abelen worked in the mid-'80s - it's not unusual to pick out five different yet simultaneous trains of thought here and there.
That's a good thing.
Bassist Wilbert de Joode, drummer Charles Huffstadt, electric guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen and tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius work with Abelen like a dance troupe torn between emulating the Rockettes and liberating themselves with modern choreography, but without ever seeming lost between the two. Attacking the leader's memorable, hooky compositions, the quintet works wonderfully together, playing multi-faceted arrangements to superb cumulative effect, but then they're off; van Binsbergen exploits her effects-heavy sound to lay down a wide variety of textural gambits, while the rhythm section co-exists on different ends of the same polymetric plane. Delius plays with a ballad-up muscularity, exhibiting the same kind of power and bittersweet lyricism as primo Archie Shepp, while the leader comes across as the most mild-mannered of the whole bunch, happily playing the straight-man at this free bop dada jam. While this approach would simply sound unfocused with loads of other players, with Abelen and company it bristles with excitement.