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The new CD of Jasper van’t Hofs HOTLIPS – NeverNeverLand.
The charm of the new constellation lies in the electro-acoustic design of the concept. Powerful and sophisticated passages for brass are enhanced by lyrical, challenging solos and funk.
For his new project, Jasper van’t Hof was joined by musicians with whom he has long been associated. Mirroring the experience gained in group projects such as Pork Pie and Eyeball, the result is both a review of the past and a glimpse of the future – a kind of fusion of “modern composing”.
When attempting to describe the musical career of Dutch pianist and keyboards player Jasper van’t Hof, one tends to think of the fabulous skin-changer who can convincingly take on all kinds of different identities. Van’t Hof has the same gift – assuming different guises, feeling at ease in them and living them up to the hilt. Bands such as Association PC, the short-lived line-up Eyeball or the groundbreaking group Pork Pie all reflect the jazz-fusion specialist Jasper van’t Hof. And each of those bands are associated with the beginnings of new developments in the jazz and rock sector.
Apart from those activities, van’t Hof has always (almost puristically) played jazz, giving solo performances on the concert grand and – in the eyes of those who have experienced his fiery keyboard performances on other occasions – displaying a sensitivity almost unbelievable. And, as ever, he continues to perform moving duo concerts with partners such as Bob Malach, who have grown close to him and whose musical range of expression and intensity continue to earn his full admiration.
The third “guise” is the highly successful ethno-fusion project Pili Pili, with which van’t Hof supplied initial club hits even before the ethno trend had actually started. He was on the road for twenty years with Pili Pili, which could be termed the Dutchman’s African soul. On numerous occasions he forged experimental links between West African high-life spontaneity and the wondrous world of African drumming on the one hand and catchy fusion on the other, and he also experimented with the deeply moving choral music of South Africa. The secret of Pili Pili lay in its combination of European jazz musicians and their African colleagues, several of whom have since become World Music stars in their own right.
And the stimulation for Jasper van’t Hof’s latest project was provided by none other than the European musicians on the last Pili Pili tour: Inspired by the energy-laden improvisation of the brass section, he began writing material for a new project involving a great deal more brass. Hot Lips is the name of the new formation, and it’s almost a big band – at least the team (at heart a sextet) certainly sounds like one. On first hearing, the sound may be a little reminiscent of old Pork Pie days: wildly effusive keyboard passages mixed with well-rounded and highly palatable themes in combination with a funkily plucked bass. But the moment the broad harmonies of the brass section come in, it becomes clear that Jasper van’t Hof has invented something entirely new here. With Hotlips – in a manner very different from the band Pork Pie, which was characterized by a certain wildness and rhythmic intensity – van’t Hof is looking for a bigger lineup, bigger soundscapes and a more compact lyricism, all of it accompanied by a precise and metrical beat and forceful intensifications of tempo. Hotlips certainly allows its excellent musicians time for solos, but van’t Hof’s main objective is to put his team’s entire sound potential to collective use. There was a brief Pork Pie revival in the mid 1990s, where the musicians involved (including Philip Catherine, Charlie Mariano and Don Alias as well as van’t Hof himself) also integrated their global musical experience, especially where Africa was concerned. Now, however, Hot Lips not only dispenses with African musicians but also (with one exception) with World Music aspects altogether. The new band devotes itself entirely to European fusion jazz, but not as we know it from the early ’70s. On the contrary, the style is entirely contemporary, owing as much to funk rhythms as it does to minimal music aspects; there are powerful grooves but the music is also dance-like, even reminiscent of chamber music, and – something one encounters again and again in Jasper van’t Hof’s compositions – comprises the odd elegiac moment as well.
The Hotlips musicians are primarily good old friends from Jasper van’t Hof ‘s musical family: London trombonist Annie Whitehead, a bandleader herself who has toured with Pili Pili on several occasions; the same applies to sax player Tony Lakatos, electric bass player Frank Itt and drummer Marlon Klein, in whose Bielefeld studio several of the Hotlips recordings were made, and the highly talented Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans. Danish bassist Bo Stief is a very old friend of van’t Hof – they have played together on different occasions since 1980. Trumpeter Christian Kappe, from Münster, Germany, has made a good name for himself with various German fusion bands over the past years, and young trumpeter Axel Schlosser, once a member of the Peter Herbolzheimer Federal Youth Jazz Orchestra (BuJazzO), is now part of the Hesse Radio Big Band.