A fresh talent from the Low Countries, Dutch guitar player and composer Syberen van Munster didn’t come to NYC to be ‘just another jazz guitarist,’ because his opening salvo album Plunge For Distance isn’t just another jazz debut album. A graduate of the Conservatory of Amsterdam and active in the Big Apple since 2009, van Munster has had the adaptive skills to thrive in whatever this unrelenting music scene throws at him, but Plunge For Distance, that opening salvo, is where he goes on the offensive.
He carefully assembled his quintet with Ben van Gelder (alto sax), Vitor Gonçalves (accordion, Wurlitzer), Rick Rosato (bass), and Mark Schilders (drums), and wrote his songs around them. Syberen van Munster’s music is a sort of blend fusion of jazz and fusion jazz, where intelligent melodic development that’s easy to embrace is his main strength as a composer. He generously shares the spotlight with his band mates in order to make his songs and their heady execution the real star of this strong debut offering.
Gonçalves’ accordion supplies an Old World charm to “Cais,” where it is instantly apparent that van Munster is a jazz composer with classical insight. A long, probing intro gives way to a more somber mood, and the whole piece is wrapped up with a sumptuous bass solo from Rosato. Van Munster himself plays mostly in a comp role, but without causing much fuss, enriches the melodicism of the song. “Elegy For Edger Adams” is also a song of two personalities, pacing slow and deliberate for most of the way, then breaking out into an odd-metered jig for the last third, a launchpad for van Munster’s liquid bop lines.
For “Diminuition”, Syberen van Munster’s lead is understated but oh so tasteful, and by swinging over the rock beat of “Do You Know Reinier Baas?”, he subtly subverts convention. The title cut features the leader soloing in a fuzz-toned fusion style over the slow march, but it’s no rapid race for notes; he prefers instead to makes each note carry resonance. “Midwife Mohawk” is the energy song of the set; shifty rhythms pace this sax-led song with accordion backing and van Munster turns again to fuzz tone for his solo, this time playing it with rapid fluidity. He and Rosato combine for an unexpectedly muscular bass riff that prods van Gelder’s sax solo to the next level.
The improvs don’t even tell half of the story of this record, however, as Syberen van Munster’s one-of-a-kind compositional style takes left turns without much fanfare and form a coherent whole with individual parts worked into the fabric of the songs. Take “Röyksopp,” an interesting, twisting melody with a guitar/bass riff acting as a counterpart to van Gelder’s single note chirps and Gonçalves on Wurlitzer. Almost everyone takes a solo, but the multiple changes built into the song remain.
Right out the box, Syberen van Munster is a fully formed composer, guitarist and bandleader with his own way of doing things by pulling together familiar elements into a new, intelligent signature language. Moreover, he didn’t have to be fast, loud or atonal to make his music uniquely interesting and captivating. That’s the major achievement of Plunge For Distance.
Plunge For Distance is slated for sale March 2, 2015 from Beard ‘n Plaid Records.