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Yuri Honing

Playing Bluebeard

by Robin Kidson

 

 

 

Yuri Honing Bluebeard

 

Dutch saxophonist, Yuri Honing, has had a long and varied career. A key part of the Dutch music scene for three decades, he has also developed a sturdy international reputation helped by an extensive touring schedule which has seen him perform in a number of different ensembles in over 90 countries. His latest album, Bluebeard, on which he plays with his Acoustic Quartet, has recently been released on Challenge Records.

Born in Hilversum in 1965, Yuri Honing began his career leading a trio with Tony Overwater on bass and Joost Lijbaart on drums. The trio made a number of albums including the critically acclaimed Star Tracks in 1996. This gave a jazz treatment to various modern pop songs – listen to the trio’s compelling version of The Police song Walking On The Moon:

 

 

 

and here is the trio live and in fine form in 2009 playing A Sweet Surrender from their 2004 album, Alive. Overwater and Lijbaart have also been part of other Honing projects including the jazz rock ensemble, Wired Paradise:

 

 

 

Amongst other ventures in an extensive CV, Honing has worked with one of the big beasts of the European avant-garde, pianist and fellow Dutchman, Misha Mengelberg. Their collaboration has resulted in a number of albums including Playing in 1998. Here are Honing and Mengelberg improvising together live at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1998.

 

 

 

In 2001, Honing got his chance to play with some really big names when he recorded the album Seven with Paul Bley (piano), Gary Peacock (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). The album has been widely praised (four stars in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD) and won Honing the top Dutch music prize, an Edison Award in 2002. Listen to the track, Yasutani, from Seven.

 

 

 

 

 

n 2012, Honing formed his Acoustic Quartet. The group has played and toured extensively and has recorded four albums: True (2012), Desire (2015), Goldbrun (2017) and now Bluebeard in 2020. Both Desire and Goldbrun won Edison awards.

Gustav Dore Bluebeard

 

 

 

On Bluebeard, the Acoustic Quartet is Honing (saxophone), Wolfert Brederode (piano, harmonium, vibraphone), Gulli Gudmundsson (bass), and Joost Lijbaart (drums). All eight tracks on the album are Honing compositions.

In the words of its publicity material, the album is “dedicated…to the gruesome heritage of Bluebeard, title character of the 17th century French fairy tale”. According to the tale (which has a number of variations and appears in the folklore of other countries besides France), Bluebeard systematically murders a succession of wives. He makes the mistake, however, of giving his latest wife the keys to his castle whilst he is away on business. He tells her that she can open any door, and go into any room, except one.

 

Bluebeard by Gustave Doré

 

Of course, she cannot contain her curiosity and enters the forbidden room where she finds the hidden corpses of all the previous Mrs. Bluebeards. Bluebeard unexpectedly returns and is about to kill his latest wife when her brothers arrive and kill him instead.

 

 

 

It is a fairy tale and like all fairy tales is ripe for psychological and philosophic interpretation. It has also inspired many movies, works of art and literature. As a fairy story, it is quite a scary tale for children, but common nevertheless. Below is one relatively mild cartoon version. In contrast, Edward Dmytryk's 1972 film which starred Richard Burton and Raquel Welch had scathing reviews. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune put the film on a year-end list he made of the sickest films of the year.

 

 

 

 

Jenna Kazz Bluebeard's Door

 

 

 

Honing’s interpretation is set out in two of the eight tracks on Bluebeard. The first – and the first track on the album – is Bluebeard Maze, a long languid piece of utterly absorbing Northern European minimalism. Honing has learned the lesson that “less is more” can be the key to great art. He has the confidence born of long experience to carry off the lesson triumphantly.

 

Bluebeard's Door by Jenna Kazz

 

His melodic saxophone meanders through the piece as if it was wandering through Bluebeard’s castle. There is a hint of menace with Lijbaart’s minimalist drumming occasionally erupting in a percussive bang! as if a door was being slammed shut. At times, the piece is so quiet and slow that it almost fades away into nothingness but that makes you listen all the harder.

 

 

 

 

Here is a somewhat arty but visually arresting video made by Mariecke van der Linden of Bluebeard Maze. It features images of Yuri Honing but not of him actually playing. He looks like a maturing but still handsome and charismatic rock star with a prominent birth mark – almost a beauty spot – on his cheek adding to his air of mystery. Who knows, there might even be a touch of Bluebeard there….   

 

 

 

The second Bluebeard inspired track consists of Honing reading aloud Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet, Bluebeard: “This door you might not open, and you did; / So enter now, and see for what slight thing / You are betrayed….”The words are accompanied by Bredorode playing the harmonium interspersed with occasional snatches of the vibraphone. The effect is almost like a prayer intoned in a church. Honing’s voice is deep and rich with the slight Dutch accent adding another compelling dimension. Listen to the track .....

 

 

 

 

 

The remainder of the tracks have titles which refer to works of literature – interestingly, all Anglo-American works. A Room With A View (E.M. Forster), has Honing’s melodic sax playing over a bright, gently swinging beat with a catchy bass riff; Narcissus is a slow, contemplative piece with an attractive tune. The piano plays a soft repetitive pattern – the ripples of the reflecting stream, perhaps, with Honing’s dreamy sax looking down upon it. The Quartet gradually builds up the tension and the mood becomes more intense before dialling back down again. Here is a live performance of Narcissus by the Acoustic Quartet at last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival.

 

 

 

 

The Art Of Losing Isn’t Hard to Master is a line from an Elizabeth Bishop poem. The piece kicks off with some gentle piano before the bass joins and a hooky riff emerges. Lijbaart comes in with his signature minimalist drumming occasionally punctuated by a louder shot. Honing plays with the riff before going off on his own creating a hypnotic mood. The whole piece is beautifully realised and, after two or three plays, sticks in the mind.

She Walked in Beauty Like the Night (Lord Byron) builds gradually. Honing’s long held notes give the impression of a slow piece whereas, in fact, there is a deceptive foot tapping beat going on beneath. Bits of Paradise (Scott Fitzgerald) begins slowly and Yuri Honinglyrically but then the mood changes to something more upbeat – almost a rock rhythm. The piano sets up a riff and the drums – more prominent on this piece – pick out the beat. Gradually, both piano and sax become less melodic and a slightly sinister discordance comes into play – paradise corrupted, perhaps?

 

Yuri Honing

 

The final track is Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, the title taken from the well- known Dylan Thomas poem. This has a very attractive and catchy tune which is gradually left behind as tension builds and the mood grows more intense. Honing’s playing frees up, becoming wilder, noisier, angrier, perhaps catching the sentiment of another line of the poem: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 
With Bluebeard, Yuri Honing has pulled off something quite exceptional. The whole album is an exercise in exquisitely controlled restraint with much said in just a few carefully chosen brush strokes and where the silences between the notes are almost as eloquent as the notes themselves. It’s tempting to say that the album is a culmination of three decades of experience but that implies a conclusion and one hopes that there is much more still to come from Yuri Honing.

 

For more details about the album Bluebeard click here. For Yuri Honing's website click here.

 

Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet

Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet  

 

 

 

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