It feels like getting together in a synchronous reality; a reality that the four members of the band experience and interpret each from their own perspectives.”
After being introduced to Stateside jazz fans and six-string aficionados with 2009’s studio album Twelve Piece and 2010’s double-live Trinary Motion, both of which he co-led with the renowned vibist-composer Mike Mainieri of Steps Ahead fame, Dutch guitarist Marnix Busstra steps out with his own impressive quartet release as a leader.
Joining the accomplished guitarist-composer from Amsterdam on Sync Dreams are his fellow countrymen and musical kindred spirits Rembrandt Frerichs on piano, Arnold Dooyeweerd on bass and longtime collegue and collaborator Pieter Bast on drums. Together they strike a highly interactive accord on ten potent Busstra originals that also showcase the leader’s considerable chops, penchant for lyricism and daring improvisational skills on the instrument. “I wanted to make a step forward musically after the albums with Mike Mainieri,” says Marnix. “I loved doing them, of course, but I wanted a little bit more freedom in the music, so in the compositions I tried to make more space and the possibility to offer that freedom. And the bass player and pianist were chosen for this project because they can really deal with that freedom.”
That freedom principal plays out throughout Sync Dreams, as finely crafted pieces suddenly open up, sometimes shifting into rubato sections to allow for all possibilities to come forth. And these players respond with daring forays that often straddle the inside/outside aesthetic. “These guys can get very loose,” says Busstra, “and I love that about them. There was a real sense of searching in the studio, a collective improvisation thing going on. And we really get to explore that even more when we play live.”
Sync Dreams kicks off in unusual fashion with “Earth Tone,” which has Bussta summoning up exotic tones on the electric sitar-guitar, an instrument that provides the perfect bridge between his interest in jazz guitar and Indian sitar. “I love the sound of this instrument,” he says. “It has kind of a ritual sound to it. I studied Indian music and played the sitar for a few years but I had to stop because it’s such a tough, physically demanding instrument to play. You really have to play it every day because it’s hard on your fingers. It gives you a lot of pain if you play it only once a week. So I ended up choosing the sitar-guitar because I can get the Indian sound and atmosphere, but on an instrument that’s much more easy to play.”
Once out of the warm-sounding, lyrical head of “Earth Tone,” played on sitar-guitar, Marnix switches to his regular electric guitar and instantly channels one of his most significant guitar influences, the great John Scofield, with his aggressive attack, sense of urgency and sheer improvisational abandon in his extended solo. And while Marnix may hint at that towering influence along the way on Sync Dreams, he plays authoritatively and passionately throughout the course of this impressive quartet offering. “It’s very important to find your own voice, of course,” he says. “And it’s not easy, especially on guitar, because there are so many possibilities with the sounds…so many pedals and all kinds of things you can choose. But what’s really important to me is that my focus in music is very much on the melody. And for me, the sound of the guitar has to be really singing to get that melodic quality going. So I need that sustain and just that little bit of distortion. When I play with a traditional jazz sound, it’s really hard for me because it’s got no sustain and it’s not really singing. Most effects pedals are too heavy-sounding for me, so I really have to look for a very specific combination of things — a little bit of the distortion in the sound but not too aggressive –and it just helps me to get that singing tone. It took me a long time to find the perfect combination but I’m really happy with the sound I have now.”
Following the dynamic opening number, “Earth Tone,” Busstra and his kindred crew jump head-long into the kinetic “Wise Witch,” which again finds the guitarist dipping deeply into his Scofield bag with scintillating results. Pianist Frerichs contributes a muted string piano solo that adds to the element of surprise on this surging number, which drummer Bast underscores with his briskly swinging brushwork. The forceful 6/8 swinger “Down and Up Again” builds to a furious peak of energy, fueled by drummer Bast’s skillful traversing of the kit and bassist Arnold Dooyeweerd’s heavy grooving lines, and is capped by grungy-toned fusillades from Busstra’s slightly dirty guitar tones. Pianist pushes the harmonic envelope on this driving modal number with an exhilarating, Herbie Hancock-inspired solo that instantly elevates the proceedings.
On the beautiful, hymn-like “Small Truth,” Busstra caresses each note with uncommon delicacy and lyricism, expressing himself on the guitar with a poignant feeling that goes beyond the notes as he triggers memories of Pat Metheny’s evocative “Midwestern Nights Dream” (from his landmark 1976 album Bright Size Life). With “Wave Swinger,” Marnix returns to Sco mode with a touch of blues-tinged swagger in his step and just enough distortion/sustain in his tone to provide the proper bite. Frerichs responds with yet another brilliant piano solo on this energized modern jazz offering.
“Octoforce” is perhaps the most experimental number of the collection. Relying on dissonance, a throbbing pedal point throughout and adventurous use of rubato playing, time displacement and metric modulation, Busstra and his cutting-edge crew create a sense of collective exploration in this ambitious offering. The sense of freedom and loose-tight chemistry demonstrated by the rhythm tandem of Dooyeweerd and Bast on this adventurous track allow both Frerichs and Busstra to take it further out than usual on their respective solos.
The title track is a loping, Monkish blues that has bassist Dooyeweerd grooving heavily underneath while guitar and piano unite for some sparkling, angular unisons on top. Drummer Bast supplies a loose, highly syncopated swing feel beneath Busstra’s odd, angular solo as pianist Frerichs provides sparse ‘mysterioso’ arpeggios alongside the guitarist’s boldly surging lines. Bassist Dooyeweerd’s big-toned, resonant solo adds another dimension to this oddly playful, noir-ish piece. “What I really love about that one is that the melody is really atonal,” says Busstra. “So when you play that melody and the solo starts, you can play actually anything, you are really free to go. And that makes the interaction between musicians very pure. Normally there would be roles but with this composition, anybody can take any role. So almost anything can happen. It’s like ultimate freedom in the way that you can play together, and yet, it still sounds like a composition. It’s totally free but it’s also a composition, and I like that a lot.”
“Desolation” opens with bassist Dooyeweerd’s mesmerizing ostinato figure setting a dark, slightly melancholy tone. Frerichs’ gently cascading arpeggios and Bast’s sparse accents and colorist’s touch on the kit underscore Marnix’s uncharacteristically clean-toned excursions on the guitar.
“Peasant’s Party” has Busstra switching to bouzouki (a Greek stringed instrument) to capture an old world spirit but with some harmonic and rhythmic twists, courtesy of pianist Frerichs and drummer Bast, who showcases his impressive chops here and penchant for drama in his stunning solo.
The collection closes on an enigmatic note with the Monkish “Between Blue and Brown,” a quirky slow blues that has Marnix testifying in gritty, distortion-laced tones.
The guitarist-composer-bandleader addresses both the album title and the near-telepathic nature of this highly interactive quartet outing in the liner notes to Sync Dreams: “On our very best moments (and we’ve encountered quite a few of those when recording this album), playing with such musicians is something really intimate. It feels like getting together in a synchronous reality; a reality that the four members of the band experience and interpret each from their own perspectives.” Marnix adds, “For me, it’s a big new step to have a CD with just my name on it. And I’m really hoping that people will enjoy Sync Dreams and maybe catch the quartet on tour.
Born into a musical family, Marnix’s father Jan Busstra was a working musician and piano teacher with a great love for jazz. His older Berthil plays keyboards and is co-leader with Marnix of the Buzz Bros Band. Their younger sister Margreet is a professional singer and multi-instrumentalist. At an early age, Marnix tried his hand at piano, drums and trumpet before finally settling on the guitar at age 14. After starting lessons on classical guitar, his growing love of jazz made him switch to the electric guitar. He joined his first serious band, Topaz, while in high school during the 1970s. There followed a succession of bands through the 1980s, including Holland’s popular fusion band Last Resort, led by well-known vibraphonist Carl Schulze. By 1989, Marnix formed his own group, Second Vision, which recorded several CDs. In 1995, he formed the Marnix Busstra 4-tet and by 2002 he joined with his brother Berthil to form the Buzz Bros. Band, which has released three CDs to date and continues to tour regularly throughout Europe, India, China and Indonesia. In 2002, he formed the Mike Mainieri/Marix Busstra Quartet with the Steps Ahead vibist, subsequently releasing the studio album Twelve Pieces in 2006 and the live double-CD set Trinary Motion in 2010.
And now comes 2013’s Sync Dreams, Busstra’s debut outing with his own potent quartet. Says Marnix’s mentor Mike Mainieri: “Marnix is one of my favorite contemporary composers and guitarists. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed recording and touring with him the last several years. His compositions are like performing a series of beautiful vignettes — some serene, some fiery and others just free enough to ‘think out of the box’. I’ve already listened to his new album and recommend it highly.”
It’s a major statement by a talent deserving of wider recognition.