French-born, Amsterdam-based clarinetist Joris Roelofs has built his career balancing intense discipline and deep commitment to post-bop tradition with a measured exploratory streak. He’s worked extensively in the Vienna Art Orchestra and he maintains a wonderfully buoyant trio with the American rhythm section of Ted Poor and Matt Penman. But this new recording suggests that his attraction to freedom is growing stronger. Icarus is a lovely duo project with the veteran free jazz drummer Han Bennink, a perfect match for the reedist. The percussionist is both a master of chaos and one of the most naturally swinging musicians on the planet, and he provides both grounding and provocation to his much younger associate.
Most of the music is freely improvised and the album opens with a blast of disorder on “Carmen,” with Bennink banging out piano clusters and injecting some discordant cymbal explosions, while Roelofs blows harsh squawks. Suddenly a wild gear-shift occurs and a tender, breathy melody that sounds like a lost standard and a loping, rumbling groove takes over, indicating the sort of polarities that the pair giddily explore throughout. The clarinetist’s lyric gifts are so strong that when the duo tackle jazz standards like Eric Dolphy’s “Something Sweet, Something Tender”--presented with an attractively slack drag from Bennink that deftly adds tension to the in-and-out-of-focus treatment of the theme--or Charlie Haden’s indelible “Song for Che,” they feel entirely of a piece with the spontaneous creations. Icarus captures an electric dialogue: raw, giddy, trusting. Here’s hoping this conversation continues.