The Frerich connection

A Dutch-Israeli musical fantasy.

Kepera Trio (photo credit: Allard Willemse)
Kepera Trio
(photo credit: Allard Willemse)
You wouldn’t normally associate a Dutch musical enterprise with the rhythms and textures of this part of the world, but pianist Rembrandt Frerichs has been exploring musical material from the Middle East and elsewhere outside Western cultures for some time now. Frerichs forms part of the jazz-based Kepera Trio, along with compatriot bass player Guus Bakker and drummer Vinsent Planjer. Next week they will team up with Israeli multi-wind instrumentalist Yoram Lachish for three gigs in Jerusalem (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.
at Avram), Tel Aviv (Thursday, 9:30 p.m. at Beit Hayotzer) and Acre (Saturday, 9 p.m. at the Municipal Conservatory, ).
I caught their show at the Jazzahead international jazz showcase in Bremen, Germany, earlier this year, and the worlds of jazz and ethnic music the members of the quartet incorporated in their show meshed seamlessly.
The confluence of the ethnically inclined Dutchmen with the Israeli horn player is a natural marriage of likeminded artists, differing cultures of origin notwithstanding.
Frerichs says he has always had an ear cocked towards sounds from other parts of the world. “I am open to music from the Arabic world and from India. There are great artists like Dylan or Neil Young, but that doesn’t attract me at all. For me, it is about the spirit and the texts and about music for music – about the sound,” he explains.
In fact, Frerichs started out on his path to musical exploration in the European classical domain before getting into jazz and all manner of ethnic musical disciplines. Some jazz artists who break away from the classical mold talk about the frustration of being confined to the non-improvisational strictures of the classical world; but for Frerichs, classical music is still at his core. “It’s true that I wanted to improvise, but I consider European classical music as my natural background. My father played the organ, and we had records of the classical masters like Bach and Chopin in the house. Classical music is in my genes as a person from the Western world,” he says.
In a sense, Frerich’s forthcoming trip here is something of a homecoming. After high school he spent a couple of years living in Egypt, studying Arabic and getting into the sounds and rhythms of the local musicians, and he made a trip to Israel. All that informed his musical evolution, and he began in earnest to delve into other areas.
“I wanted to find out what other directions I could take with my instrument,” he notes. “Of course, the piano is the least suitable instrument for playing maqams [Arabic musical modal forms]. Of course, you can spend a lifetime working on Western classical music and not getting bored with it all; but for me, it was about extending my horizons and finding something new. I maybe just needed some fresh impetus.”
Last week’s Oud Festival in Jerusalem included a concert fronted by Ronen Shapira, who played on keyboards that were tuned to accommodate the quarter tones that are characteristic of Arabic music. Frerichs, meanwhile, says he prefers to work with his instrument without changing the substructure. “I must say that the change for me is to take the core elements of the Western piano and to incorporate musical structures and all sorts of ideas from different worlds.”
Even though Frerichs was weaned on classical music, it took something from outside the fold to really get him going. “When I discovered jazz, that’s when I starting taking music seriously,” he recalls. “It just felt so natural.”
Again, there was some paternal influence here. “When I was 10, my father played records by people like [Belgian jazz harmonica player] Toots Thielemans and [Canadian jazz pianist] Oscar Peterson. Hearing those records made me enthusiastic about music for the first time. I fell in love with the African swing, the freedom and the energy of jazz. I felt it was music about music. I loved the improvisation, which I later also found in Arabic and Turkish music,” he says.
For Frerichs, jazz is the most natural and basic form of artistic expression.
“You know, we do and experience things in all sorts of situations during our day that have different rhythms and sounds. That’s what I love about this music.”
Frerichs’ path first crossed that of Lachish in 2004 when the two played in the European Youth Orchestra together in Denmark. “The guy who ran the orchestra wanted an oboe player that year, and that’s why Yoram was invited to play. I liked the way he played. We stayed in touch over the years, and then in 2008 I had a chance to invite him to come to Europe to play with the trio, and we did some gigs together,” he recounts.
The foursome have been playing music together ever since. They recently toured India, and a couple of years ago they put out a fine album called Levantasy, subtitled: “East-West Intercultural Adventures in Music.” The dozen tracks on the album include material written by various members of the band, Israeli jazz-ethnic music guitaristpianist Itamar Erez, with whom Lachish performs regularly, and a Sephardic liturgical piece.
Frerichs says he is looking forward to playing here. “Israel is the source of a lot of things we do and the things I like, and it seems perfectly natural to be going to there to perform.”For more information about the Levantasy tour: 077-445- 0701 (Avram); (03) 544-1505 (Beit Hayotzer); (04) 991- 0522; (04) 995-6152 (Acre)