Dutch Treat

Our trip to Europe was scheduled months in advance to attend a family reunion in Holland. But a week before leaving from Vancouver I discovered that guitarist Jan Akkerman (Focus) was playing in Zaandam along with the Rosenberg Trio. This thrilled me to no end. I had tried unsuccessfully twenty-five years ago to meet him while I was living in Holland. Yes, I was twenty-one, carefree and working three days a week at my cousin's grocery store and traipsing across Europe, having the time of my life. This is when I taught myself how to read music; working through Segovia's Fernando Sor's Twenty Studies. But Akkerman and his band at the time, Focus, attracted me immensely.

Our European vacation was booked and the concert was smack dab in the middle of our itinerary. I hastily contacted a cousin of mine in Holland, a tour operator, who reserved three seats for the night of Thursday, Sept. 28. And I contacted Akkerman's manager to arrange a meet'n greet so everything was in order. At last!

My wife and I were in Stuttgart, Germany on the 27th attending a real German Folksfest with relatives, a precursor to Octoberfest. An early morning rise on the 28th precipitated a seven-hour car drive on the infamous autobahn to Zaandam. Travelling this notorious motorway at 160 km for most of the trek assured us of arriving early enough to secure a hotel for the night close to the venue.

The show started promptly at 8:15 p.m. with Jan Akkerman walking out onto the stage dressed in black, a mauve sports jacket and a black beret. In Dutch he attributed the attire to his wife but the beret was his idea due to a steady recession of his hairline. He sidled onto a stool next to his amp cradling his Gibson L-5. Within minutes he opened the show with a Dropped D arpeggiation that introduced his first number; a solo suite based on C.S. and Wildflower. This very rubato and poignant new age tune showcased Jan's style and set the atmosphere for the evening. It was complete with familiar chord progressions from earlier Focus days and displayed his penchant for classical guitar stylings replete with rasgueado and counterpoint, etc.

I really didn't know what to expect. The last CD I bought by Akkerman was The Noise of Art back in 1990. I had collected most of his earlier releases in the 70's. It was a relaxed and quiet crowd that fell under his spell this evening. The Zaan Theatre holds about 1,000 people and this tour event was sold out. Thanks to my cousin, Alfred, we had secured 3 seats.

Sensing the end to his first tune by altering the flavor from D major to D minor the stand up bass player and drummer manned their posts for the night and segued into Am I Losing You released as a single in 1995. There were moments the bass player lost his way through the chart but with reason; he only rehearsed once briefly with Akkerman before doing the gig. The leader himself introduced his cohorts following the tune and explained that this indeed was the case.

Heavy Treasure was introduced next. This one featured a jazzy shuffle with a blues in A for soloing. Akkerman displayed his prowess for Montgomery octaves and chord melody throughout--nice surprise.

A tribute to Miles Davis was Milestones in F at a blazing clip with Akkerman nailing blues and jazz lines alike. A polite and appreciative applause followed. A contrasting slow tune, Puccini's Café followed in Em with a free cadenza.
Stochelo Rosenberg came out to join the ensemble for Floatin' which was a delicious treat. He blazed ideas all over the guitar fretboard skewering the solo changes that sounded like a selection from the Realbook. He and Akkerman traded solos skillfully and closed it by reinstating the main motif in the coda. Stochelo learned the tune in just five minutes.

D'Jan'gology closed the first set with Nous'che Rosenberg joining the rest supplying rhythm accompaniment. This typical Django flavored tune, composed by Akkerman, set the stage for what was yet to come in the second set. Stochelo really burned on this one. I had to have a Rosenberg CD once this show ended! A twenty-minute intermission followed.

The Rosenberg Trio won a few new fans because of this night. They played gorgeous versions of Summertime, Oleo, Nuages and Limehouse Blues before Akkerman returned to the stage to play Zebra, After You've Gone and My Pleasure. As a fitting encore to this evening everyone played Akkerman's Pietons and Jan ended it by inserting that famous lick from Hocus Pocus. A fitting close to a concert that began without any expectations whatsoever.

I asked Akkerman why he didn't tour North America any more. He simply stated he couldn`t be bothered traveling so much. He was doing what he wanted to do and playing what he felt like playing. I questioned him about fans trying to secure his CDs which he quickly asserted that if anyone really wanted to get his music just check the internet and his own website. He seemed content playing this tour with the Rosenberg's. His own guitar design is also touted as the Catalyst.

My wife, my cousin and I ended the brief meeting with Jan with a photo and left the building for our hotel--a fitting close to a Dutch Treat.

photo © W.G.McDonald