Fans of the Dutch prog band Focus have had a lot to cheer them lately; the most recent addition to that canon, however, is one of the most exciting in a long time, as guitarist Jan Akkerman emerges with C.U. (Angel Air), a nine song studio set that finds him delving into electronica, programming and dance beats, without ever losing the intuitive beauty of his more traditional work. Jeff Beck, of course, set the scene for such work-outs, and did so in a manner that defied categorization. Akkerman joins him in those outer limits, with an album that is as breathtaking today as he ever was in the past.
Review: Jo-Ann Greene
From start ‘til the end
“A total refreshment, a new beginning”. These words were
among the classifications the fans gave Jan’s new CD “C.U.”.
But how can “total refreshment” be part of “a new
beginning”? That’s something that can be applied to most
of Jan’s records…
In Jan’s recording career (which started in the late fifties),
actually every record he did, has something special. He never considered
making records a periodical activity, concerning the artistic side of
it. Okay, some might consider that inconsequent, but the surprise is
huge. For example, I do remember the first time that I heard a record
like “Puccini’s Café”. After going through
a lot of changes, Jan made that album with deep and emotional feelings
that really touched people. Also, “Focus in Time” stood
out, because of its variety of styles, not within an album, but within
the songs. That’s what makes Jan’s albums so exciting.
Over the last couple of years, Jan teamed up with Jeroen Rietbergen,
who became his new keyboard player (since 1999). Jeroen’s enthusiasm
and his fresh approach of improvisations made his contribution to the
Jan Akkerman Band a significant one. Same goes for Wilbrand, his bass
playing grew since the days he was a member of the Dutch fusion band
Cooper-test and delivers a solid backing to the JA-band.
Some years ago, when Jan mentioned to me that he was listening to the
electronic sample-jazz of St. Germain, he noticed that he recognized
some of his style in that music. Electronics are part of modern day
popular music, not just using it as a total and complete instrument
(press, play and execute!), but when it comes to the colouring of compositions,
tightness and production, it can be the cream on the cherry pie. The
moment Jan met Ronald Molendijk and the other members of Soulvation
is described in his editorial. It meant the start of a new album project.
When I saw the combination of Jan with Ronald and Jeroen during the
Jack Daniels’ tour in April 2003, I saw that electronic influence
to Jan’s music right there, on stage, while he was having fun
and enjoying this direction in his music. His cooperation with Ronald
Molendijk and Jeroen Rietbergen (the producers’ team) went splendid.
The rhythmical side of his playing was more important than ever before,
not forgetting the moments to “blow”, when the solos are
there to enjoy. Molendijk and Rietbergen are known from their own electronic
soul-dance-project “Soulvation” (also featuring guitarist
Leendert Haaksma and Michel van Schie). When Molendijk was asked what
he thought of Jan’s playing, he said that “of course I knew
Jan as a solo-guitarist, but his rhythm playing is sooo damned good.
Jeroen and me are really trying to get the most out of that while producing
the new CD. Halfway through September 2003, the album was mastered and
in late October 2003, “C.U.” was released. Jan’s 23rd
Finally, after waiting four years after “Passion”, the new
CD was released in a striking red sleeve, using the trademark neon “JA”
logo. It’s good to see the return of this particular logo, since
it was first used on the eponymous 1977 ‘guitar in bed’-album.
The album contains nine long tracks, clocking in for more than 60 minutes
of playing time. When looking at the writing credits, one can see the
influence of Wilbrand, Jeroen and Ronald. Wilbrand wrote one track,
called “Blowing”, while the other two guys wrote “Kloenk”
and contributed ‘the maestro’ on “Slow man”.
It’s great to notice that some of recent years live favourites
were added to “C.U.”. The Isley’s “In between
the sheets”, “I’m in the mood”, “Cottonbay”
and “Dance the blues away” are songs that the regular visitors
of JA concerts might recognize. But, they sound remarkably different
on the new CD.
Let’s take a look on the nine tracks of “C.U.”.
The title track starts with a swinging beat and Jeroen’s swirling
synths and soul vocal-samples. Jan enters the album with a lyrical and
catching melody that sets the mood of the CD. Okay, so this is what
it sounds like, you might think… Very groovy and fresh, mainly
due to the combination of guitar and Fender Rhodes. Just imagine the
driving beat of the 1993 “Love is uneven”-track, but with
more keyboard layers and a certain bright and happy mood attached to
the overall sound.
Halfway through, there’s a nice break and Jan turns to an acoustic-rhythm
motive, which gives the title track an unexpected twist.
IN BETWEEN THE SHEETS
Jan’s interpretation of the Isley Brothers’ classic from
1983. From an original slow ballad with Roland TR 808 electronic drums
in the style of Marvin’s Gaye “Sexual healing”, Jan
turns this song into a much faster form that gives it another (and newer!)
dimension. The guitar-Rhodes interludes (the 3-chord motive) brings
the beat down, before Molendijk enters it again and the piece may sound
endless, but Jan plays a short solo to finish the track. Excellent stuff
I’M IN THE MOOD
The title track of Jan’s recent theatre tour and already performed
live. Again, the joyful melody sets the atmosphere and this piece sounds
more coherent on CD, while it features more solos than played live.
Michel van Schie plays some catchy fills in combination with the swinging
drum programming. This track marks Jan’s new wave of excellent
compositions. It could be a nice single, if any would be taken from
this album. But the same goes for the next track…
DANCE THE BLUES AWAY
Some might recognize the track’s motive from the 1994 “Blues
Route”-track, or even earlier… As it sounds now, this piece
finally got its definitive form. Ronald’s pounding drums and Jeroen’s
Rhodes playing incorporate with Jan’s solid and sturdy playing.
A track that makes you whistle it all day long and the title of the
track itself is something to think about.
Now, we are halfway through the album, when we reach the longest track,
“Cottonbay”. Another last few years live favourite, this
interpretation is slow and delicate. Very sparse drum programming, that
makes room for a warm guitar sound and eerie sounds coming from the
Hammond organ. Jan plays several solos here and Wilbrand adds his melodic
bass playing. This track is placed exactly in the middle of the album
and gives you time to chill and cool down for four more tracks.
This is probably the most exciting track of the album (alongside the
last track). Excellent drum programming, Willy’s funky bass and
Jan at his best, playing a signature rhythm that makes you tapping your
feet immediately. But then the surprise arises, the twisted sound of
Jan’s guitar…backwards! Something which the listener might
not expect, but it fits very well to the tempo of the track. Jeroen
adds some ringing synths to give “Kloenk” some more depth.
Willy’s contribution. Starting with vinyl crackles and sampled
brass, this is an up-tempo fusion-track with some catchy breaks and
probably the most jazzy track on the album. It fits in well between
“Kloenk” and “Slow man”. The thunderous interlude
gives the piece even more balls!
The high light of the album? I haven’t got a clue… The impression
one gets when first hearing “Slow man” might be a ‘bull’s
eye’ combination of acoustic playing and the atmospheric and symphonic
sound of the middle section. The listener might remember Jan’s
sound from the seventies... this track breathes some fresh air. Jan
plays his “Gitane” very delicately and those long stretched
electric chords in the middle are very enjoyable. Take some notice of
Jeroen’s rhythm playing, it almost sounds like reggae! “Slow
man” is the most complete track on the album; one gets attracted
to it all over again.
Co-penned by Jeroen, Ronald, Wilbrand and Jan, this really sounds like
it was made in the studio, while having fun on drum loops and a pitched
guitar sound. Jeroen’s synth-playing sounds deep and low, while
Jan feels at ease and adds a swinging solo, making this album end an
uptight note and a well-presented combination of guitars, keyboards
and drum programming.
There it is. Some might wonder if this really is a “guitar”-album.
As if that makes any sense. Well, you might be surprised in the way
the guitar sound is produced on this CD and the variety of guitars that
Jan used while recording the album. In the end, it sounds soulful and
very fresh. It shows another side of Jan’s never ending experiments.
He worked with the right people, at the right moment and C.U. gives
his guitar sound and his compositions another dimension. Well done!
And of course we hope to C Jan soon…
Review: Wouter Bessels
Jan Akkerman got in the music business
when he heard rhythm-guitar. Simple, straight and grooving guitar is
Jan's first love. Once he had heard this rhythm-guitar on Mahalia Jackson's
'Didn't it rain', Jan knew what he wanted. Just playing that wooden
box with strings. Four decades have passed since then, and Jan is still
around. Only that fact is a great achievement in this little country
called Holland, where music stars come and go, and never will get recognition
While Jan still is playing with the
same attitude and pleasure as forty years ago, Jan is still in the business.
And with his latest release C.U. he is back where he started from: on
this CD we can hear Jan's versatile rhythm guitar playing, probably
in the kind of style when aged seven.
On the opening track 'See
you' immediately a horse could get hic-ups, indeed. This playing
is so deadly funky, and although this completely digitalized background
by these Soulvation brothers, the sound is Jan's for sure. The opening
track is well underway with the most incredible dancebeats and funky
Jakkerman sounds, when there's a suprising break to make room for only
a few guitar chords. Then you'll know: this is why Jan got on guitar
and still is, despite all these fuzz around it. As if Jan wants to make
a statement: this is what me got into this mess, but I like it so here
we go again!
the sheets' is a number of the Isley Brothers which Jan played
with very much pleasure during his latest theatre-tour here in Holland.
And of course at least three times faster than the original. It's stunning
to hear that Jan can play along with these fast dancebeats, without
losing touch with the music. I mean it's not only incredible technique
here, but this track has really a warm soul-feeling. Watch out for these
grooving bass-lines by Wilbrand!
This soul-feeling is getting hot in
the next track 'I'm in the mood'. This
is one of these feel-good tunes Jan have made, like 'Streetwalker' with
this 'nothing can hurt me now sound' When this happy warm sound doesn't
put a smile on your face, you need to see a doctor.
Jan can't resit to re-record old tracks.
'Dance the blues away' is a theme we
heard before on Blues Hearts, and other records. But it's forgiven,
it's almost Jan's signature-theme and I must admit, here again it grooves
like hell. Especially these keyboard-sounds from Jeroen Rietbergen.
Please make room because you'll have to dance your butt off on this
Next it's time for a rest. Make a
coconut-cocktail and relax to the ten-minute track on this album, 'Cotton
bay'. The pace is slowed down, to play some refreshing blues
and hear Jan playing slow (yes, indeed he can!), in this relaxing Pietons-like
tempo: stunningly slow swing, with Jan caressing each note...
Then there is this incredible pumping bass in 'Kloenk'.
Now Jan's My Pleasure-guitarlines got sampled and still you hear the
Akkerman-signature here. Now that's an accomplishment: sounds that survive
Next there is this incredible funky track, a composition by bassist
Wilbrand 'Blowing'. It's a long time
since Jan have played real funk like Prince is now doing on his records.
This funk needs a singer like Trijntje Oosterhuis (ex-Total Touch).
Indeed I miss a real-life vocal on some tracks, despite this nicely
done sample on the first track.
'Slow man' is the track that stands
out on the record. There is the warm guitar-sound that made Jan world-famous.
Mixed with spanish-like acoustic sound Jan shows his versatility. There
are two beautiful bridges in this number, 25 seconds of beauty, probably
played with this Gitane 500-guitar.
The last track 'Urban
String' is no less than straightforward fun(k)-rock. The simple
theme, which can be heard on the opening page of the website, is very
infectious. Jan's is demonstrating here that he is the most fast and
furious, without losing touch with the dancebeats. If you're not already
grooved out by the previous tracks, this one will give you the final
blow and make you smile and want you to listen to this record again.
Thank god, we can play this CD over again from the beginning. And that
this whole album actually sounds, a fresh new beginning.
Come on, Jan! Give us another forty years of pleasure!
Review: Bas van den Berg
Final editing: Irene Heinicke