The Whammies are an international group formed by Boston-based Dutch alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra and Athens-born pianist Pandelis Karayorgis. The line-up is completed by Chicagoans Jeb Bishop on trombone and Nate McBride on bass, plus Dutch master drummer Han Bennink, with his fellow ICP member California-born Mary Oliver sitting in on four tracks on violin and viola. The group takes its name from an 80's Steve Lacy composition — fitting, as they concentrate on Lacy's music, but also appropriate to the energy and attitude their music conveys. This album is their first release; studio-recorded in February 2012, it consists of seven Lacy compositions plus Thelonious Monk's "Locomotive". Group members' past experience amply qualifies them to play Lacy: Karayorgis studied and extensively performed Monk's music which was so vital to Lacy, in 1991 compiling a collection of all Monk's compositions; Dijkstra studied improvisation and composition with Lacy; in the 80's Bennink played and recorded extensively with Lacy.
This album kicks off in fine style with its longest track, "Bone", at nearly nine minutes. After warming up with an impressive staccato trombone and sax intro, the quintet gives the straightforward melody a driving ensemble run-through which could signal a hard bop reading of the piece. In keeping with the tune's title, that serves as the launch pad for a wide-ranging, soaring 'bone solo from Bishop before Dijkstra responds in kind with his own fluid solo followed by a piano solo that is their equal; the piece is rounded off in classic fashion by a crisp reprise of the head. The only other track to adopt the same conventional intro-solos-reprise format is the closing version of the Monk piece, with solo showcases for McBride, Dijkstra and, particularly, Karayorgis.
With those two tracks as bookends, in between are six more on which the group adopts a looser approach to the material. Rather than taking turns to solo, the musicians' contributions continually overlap, creating a constantly evolving soundscape which is rich in detail and full of surprises — in other words, it is great fun! The Whammies interpret Lacy their own way, without being unduly reverent to the compositions or seeking to recreate the original versions. With Dijkstra's use of a lyricon, they even manage to integrate analogue electronics into the ensemble without it sounding like heresy. The end result is that they breathe new life into Lacy's music, not consign it to history. Very appropriately, "The Whammies" is the album's high spot, four minutes of unbridled blowing by six players in peak form — the kind of music to set pulses racing and juices flowing.
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