“…Busstra certainly deserves a broader international audience.”
Released in Europe as the Marnix Busstra Trio featuring Mike Mainieri but in North America as the Mike Mainieri/Mike Busstra Quartet, the name change may reflect both vibraphonist Mainieri’s significant involvement and his larger cachet, but Twelve Pieces remains a compelling look at this Netherlands-based guitarist. Less known on this side of the Atlantic, on the strength of this, his seventh release as a leader since 1995, Busstra certainly deserves a broader international audience.
Twelve Pieces stems from Busstra’s more electrified meeting with Mainieri on 2003’s It’s All in the Mind (Turtle), but while Twelve Pieces is less fusion by conventional definition, it’s anything but a straight-ahead session. Comparisons to guitarist Pat Metheny are unavoidable: A similarly virtuosic player who still retains a deep sense of lyricism regardless of context, the guitarist’s stylistically far-reaching writing ranges from the darkly balladic “”Old Fashion” and hauntingly poignant “It’s Done” to the buoyantly idiosyncratic “Don’t Break Step,” Latin-esque “Lost in Little Spain,” fiercely energetic “Square Brown” and obliquely free “Where Am I?”; Like Metheny, Bosstra brings a wide range of instruments to the table, including acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki and electric sitar.
With instrumentation mirroring Gary Burton’s recent Quartet Live (Concord, 2009), it’s also possible to compare Twelve Pieces to another vibraphonist who’s spent much of his career working with guitarists, but similarities remain superficial at best. Mainieri—who’s forged his own direction with groups including the decades-old Steps Ahead, heard recently on Holding Together (NYC, 2005), and in innovative one-offs like Northern Lights (NYC, 2006), collaborating with some of Norway’s most intrepid musicians—is a lithe two-mallet player with of his own melodic bent on the optimistic, world music- inflected “Kannada” (an adaptation of an Indian children’s song) and his own propulsive “All in a Row,” with its quirky theme and vamp-based solo section, where his four-mallet accompaniment to Busstra’s intensifying solo leads to some of Twelve Pieces’ most exciting moments.
Busstra may echo Metheny’s lyricism, but he avoids the kind of repetitive signature ideas to which his better-known counterpart occasionally falls prey. Instead, Busstra may be most like John Abercrombie, avoiding repetition while still sounding like nobody else. It may take exposure to more of his work to truly appreciate his voice, but on Twelve Pieces Busstra successfully builds solo after solo of melodic invention, his extended feature on the acoustic guitar-driven “The Same New Story” an understated highlight alongside tarter, more visceral playing on “Don’t Break Step.”
Bassist Eric van der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast have worked with Busstra since 1996, and their chemistry helps drive a form-based album as filled with unpredictability as it is musical diversity. With a fall European tour lined up, the only way Busstra could improve upon Twelve Pieces would be for him to bring it live to North America. In the meantime, it’s a wonderful introduction to a guitarist by no means new, but deserving greater attention—and a vibraphonist who’s been MIA for the last couple years but happily appears to be on the comeback trail.