Reviews of C.U.

 


APRIL 2005

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 official album.

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.”.

SEE YOU
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 here.

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.

COTTONBAY

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.

KLOENK
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.

BLOWING
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!
SLOW MAN
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.

URBANSTRING
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 abroad.

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!

'In between 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 one.

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 this Ronald
Molendijk-treatment!

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 is how
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