Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BREUKER, Willem

(b 4 November 1944, Amsterdam; d 23 July 2010) Composer, plays all the reeds, also barrel-organ. Refused admittance to the Conservatory in Amsterdam, he taught himself everything he wanted to know. He formed a 23-piece band '66 and recorded Contemporary Jazz From Holland on Relax (also on Wergo), and with a ground-breaking big band led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, Globe Unity on MPS. He also played e.g. with leader Peter Brõtzmann, Han Bennink, Evan Parker and others on Machine Gun '68 on FMP (Free Music Productions), a landmark in European free jazz. Breuker formed the collective and record label Instant Composers Pool '67 with percussionist Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg, making several albums on ICP. He was recorded live playing a mini-barrel-organ on an EP '67 on L'Andre, and wrote Lunchconcert For Three Barrel-organs '69 on ICP.

In the mid-'70s he left the ICP (though continuing to work with Bennink, cf. the New Acoustic Swing Duo, whose first album was on ICP); ICP got grants and subsidies and Breuker felt that he was doing all the work and gaining new audiences for creative music, so he formed the Willem Breuker Kollektief and his own record label, BV Haast, and got his own grants. The Globe Unity band was very free; the ICP did theatre work (such as an improvised life of Mozart on stage); the Kollektief was an eleven-piece band with very little change in personnel over the years, playing Breuker's music, drawing on everything from New Orleans to his own and others' film music, adding Weill, Gershwin and much else along the way, above all loaded with humour, and playing it so well that it makes other big bands sound under-rehearsed.

The Palestinians '75 included 'The PLO March'; Summer Music '80 included Breuker singing 'Let's Fall In Love'; in '92 he wrote a piece for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and played it with him on TV. There were a few albums on MPS, Marge, FMP and one on About Time in the USA, but most were on BV Haast. Among the best are Live In Berlin '75 (recorded at the Donaueschingen Music Festival, as was The European Scene on MPS) and In Holland '81; there were also On Tour '77, De Platte Jungle '78, Superstars (live in Berlin, on FMP), Doodzonde and Big Busy Band, all '78; Rhapsody In Blue (with the Vera Beths String Quartet) '81. On CD: To Remain '83-9; Kollektief, Mondrian Strings, Toby Rix, Metropolis '87-9 (Rix is a Dutch entertainer who plays harmonica and toeterix, a collection of squeeze-bulb horns; 'Metropolis' is a piece written by Ferde Grofé for Paul Whiteman); Baal Brechet Handke (a theatrical compilation), Parade '90-1 (the title piece their version of Satie), live wild fun with two Breuker suites on Heibel '90-1, a zany compilation across 20 years De Onderst Steen (on Entr'acte), stage musical This Way, Ladies '92 (which may have worked better on stage than on disc) and Willem Breuker Kollektief Meets Djazzex: Dans Plezier/Joy Of Dance '95, his first foray into composing for a dance group, loaded with the usual wit.