Jasper Van’t Hof / Paul Heller Group: Conversations

Pianist and tenor saxophonist lead a plaintive quartet session mixing impressionism, rugged swing and rumba


It’s some years since Jasper Van’t Hof came on the scene, and he’s been a regular fixture in European music, moving into areas of world music as well as collaborating with figures such as Archie Shepp, Philip Catherine and Charlie Mariano.

Van’t Hof adopts an impressionist stance at times – as on Pas De Deux, raindrops hitting the lake, piano and tenor then creating the dance duet of the title. This is developed on Conversations – An Improvisation in which the pair move around each other with great empathy, and on Easy Draw, Van’t Hof’s synthesizer having the sound of a harmonium at times.

Not afraid of taking the lead alone or forcefully leading the others, as on the hardly appropriately titled Mute and the slower downhome bluesy Rutherford, it’s clear that he also gives Heller plenty of room to ease the music into other areas.

Heller impressively alters the mood, his tone ranging from light and delicate (Too Sad For Words), even wistful (priming the canvas for the Martin Gjakonovski and Van’t Hof solos on Seems Like A Dream), to robust expressive mode, as befitting a musician who has held Johnny Griffin as an influence. His hard-edged sound comes out on the Latinish Our Man In Havana, Mute and Pas De Deux in particular.

As Heller takes the melody and improvisation on Rumba Tango, Van’t Hof provides the accent, the barrida or sweeping movement, pushing as drums and bass accept the invitation to follow – the arrastre to his lead – before his strong chordal solo moves into McCoy Tyner territory, Bodek Janke’s drumming tireless and intense.

An enjoyable album with much to recommend it.

Pas De Deux; Mute; Conversations – An Improvisation; Our Man In Havana; Seems Like A Dream; Rumba Tango; Too Sad For Words; Rutherford; Easy Draw (43.58)
Paul Heller (ts); Jasper Van’t Hof (p, syn); Martin Gjakonovski (b); Bodek Janke (d). Bonn, May 2021.
Jazzline D77113