The Ex at Bimhuis (1991-2015) is compilation of tracks from concerts by The Ex at their hometown Amsterdam venue the Bimhuis over the last quarter century.
Initially tagged ‘anarcho-punks’, The Ex have always lived up to the best connotations of that label, hosting touring musicians and making their home a hub for social and creative connectivity. The Bimhuis, Amsterdam’s leading jazz club, proved to be fully sympathetic to their pursuit of music as an inclusive, shared experience, as this collection pays occasionally ragged but always joyous testament.
The focus is actually much tighter than the title suggests, the first CD being devoted solely to three substantial chunks of performances from 1991 and 1993. Billed as “The Ex & Guests”, these early concerts variously involve Scottish punk quartet Dog Faced Hermans, vocalist Han Buhrs, comedian Herr Seele, and, in every instance, various members of Amsterdam’s co-operative Instant Composers Pool.
The second CD kicks off ten years later, with another substantial portion of a set credited to The Ex Orkest: a 20-piece improv ensemble with conduction. It then skips the decade in which longstanding bassist Luc Ex departed, and Arnold de Boer replaced GW Sok as frontman, resuming with three songs from a 2012 set by Ethiopian musician Getatchew Mekuria “& The Ex & Friends”. Four later pieces from as many concerts by the current lineup complete the set.
Sound is variable, but it’s poorest at the outset as yowser feedback shrieks interrupt a tinny but steadfast rhythmic shuffle motored by wiry guitars and whinnying brass accompaniment. But once you’re in you don’t notice, partly because the sound gets better, but mostly because it’s consistently compelling stuff, this document of The Ex debuting at the Bimhuis in June ’91: Luc, Terrie, Katrin and G.W. Sok, plus guests including Wolter Wierbos (trombone), Ab Baars (reeds), and all four Dog Faced Hermans. The second of these four tracks has clearer sound but the inputs are basic bass grind and exhortatory vocals. The third and fourth pieces are something else: scribbly guitars over a lattice of steel drums, then a ramshackle military rhythm capped by clarion brass; both indicative of things to come
Six tracks from the October meeting of the same year flow seamlessly on, embracing freedoms with ever greater confidence: witness Greetje Bijma’s alt-operatic vocals on the opening “Invitation to Dance”. Dog Faced Hermans’ Andy Moore is now in the band full time, playing alongside an expanded brass/reeds section plus Steve Beresford on piano, the latter notable on the jazzy “The Early Bird’s Worm”. The more febrile “Ex Guitars ‘n’ Han”, which features the ever-impish and volatile Han Bennink on wilding drums, prefigures the much later Lean Left quartet (Ex Guitars meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo). This loose but never slack music is almost always rhythmically directional, all improvisation happening within a reliably motoric framework that’s explicit in another percussion duel, this time between Bennink and The Ex’s constant lynchpin, drummer Katherina Bornefeld (né Katrin Ex).
Bennink appears again on CD2, playing a trio with Arnold de Boer and Xavier Charles (clarinet), just a single cut from New Years Eve, 31/12/2010, with de Boer’s vocals on “Bourgeois Blues” leading a skeletal Ethio-groove.
CD1 ends with three numbers that are, by turns, thoughtful and probing, feverish and anthemic, and mildly deranged. These were recorded late 1993 by a tighter ensemble uniting The Ex with Han Buhrs (vocals), Michael Vatcher (drums), and old friends Wierbos and Baars.
The Ex Orkest, assembled in April 2002 is a heavyweight beast powered by two double bassists, three drummers and an extraordinary frontline featuring Xavier Charles (clarinet), John Butcher (saxophone), Roy Paci and Felicity Provan (trumpet), Joost Buis (trombone) and Tseerd Oostendorp (tuba), alongside multi-instrumentalist Gert Jan Blom and vocalists Jaap Blonk and Phil Minton, all under the conduction of New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s Hamish McKeich. After some heavyweight, near Brechtian theatrics, the climactic “Late Guma” prefigures much of The Ex’s later work under the influence of de Boer’s nervy infectiousness, its joyous blend of punk energy, Ethiopian rhythm and big band unison horns.
Three intense tracks with Getatchew Mekuria, recorded in July 2012, make the Ethiopian influence explicit, allowing the Éthiopiques saxophonist plenty of scope to solo but focusing ever more tightly on rhythmic and primitivist ceremonial ecstasy. Guests here include saxophonists Ken Vandermark (Chicago) and Brodie West (Toronto), with Baars, again, superb in extremis on “Aha Gedawa”.
The heavy presence of brass and reeds throughout these years eventually led to the formation of Brass Unbound, a semi-settled touring horn section that features Vandermark alongside Swedish counterpart Mats Gustafsson, American trumpeter Peter Evans and the ever-present Walter Wierbos on trombone, but de Boer’s vocals again lead the stomp through “24 Problems” from ‘The Ex 33 1/3 Festival’ at Bimhuis, 21 December 2012, and he’s in focus again on the only piece here that features the current quartet incarnation of The Ex without any guests at all, “Every Sixth is Cracked”, recorded at a concert for children in May 2015.
The closing track returns us to the ‘The Ex 33 1/3 Festival’ for a thinly recorded but excitingly climactic performance by an all-in ensemble: The Ex and Brass Unbound plus other guests including drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, playing alongside Fendinka, a group from Addis Ababa, led by dancer Melaku Belay, which specialises in Ethiopian traditional music. Fendinka’s singers take the lead, but get swept up in an exuberant carnival of rhythm.
This is irrepressible, life-affirming stuff from first to last, and an essential entry in The Ex’s discography since it covers an integral aspect of the group’s development that’s only partially suggested by other recordings (except, perhaps, the 33⅓ Festival Live at Cafe Oto, ‘And so Say all of Us’ DVD): the live crucible of collective affirmation and metamorphosis, aka, getting it on and ripping it up.
The Ex: GW Sok vocals (1.1-13/2.1-4); Luc Klaasen bass (1.1-13, 2.1-4); Arnold de Boer vocals, sampler, guitar, trumpet (2.5-11); Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels guitar, baritone guitar (all except 2.8); Katherina Bornefeld drums, vocals (all except 2.8) + guests:
On 1.1-4: Herr Seele flute, viola, saxophone; Dorpsoudste De Jong poetry; Ab Baars saxophone, clarinet; Marion Coutts trumpet, vocals; Wolter Wierbos trombone; Colin McLean bass; Wilf Plum drums; Han Bennink drums.
On 1.5-10: Greetje Bijma vocals; Ab Baars saxophone, clarinet; Marion Coutts trumpet, vocals; Claude Deppa trumpet; Wolter Wierbos trombone; Steve Beresford piano; Wilbert De Joode double bass; Wilf Plum drums; Han Bennink drums.
On 1.11-13 Han Buhrs vocals; Ab Baars saxophone, clarinet; Wolter Wierbos trombone; Michael Vatcher drums, percussion.
On 2.1-4: The Ex Orkest: Jaap Blonk vocals; Phil Minton vocals; Hamish McKeich bassoon, conduction; Gert Jan Blom groovebox, saw, bass harmonica; Xavier Charles clarinet; John Butcher saxophone; Roy Paci trumpet; Felicity Provan trumpet; Joost Buis trombone; Tseerd Oostendorp tuba; Ernst Glerum and Rozemarie Heggen double bass; Michael Vatcher drums, percussion; Wilf Plum drums.
On 2.5-7: Gétatchèw Mèkurya saxophone; Ken Vandermark saxophone; Brodie West saxophone; Xavier Charles clarinet; Joost Buis trombone; Colin McLean bass.
On 2.8: Xavier Charles clarinet; Han Bennink drums.
On 2.9: Ab Baars saxophone, clarinet; Ken Vandermark saxophone; Mats Gustafsson saxophone; Peter Evans trumpet; Wolter Wierbos trombone;
On 2.11: Fendika drum, lute, vocals; Xavier Charles clarinet; Ken Vandermark saxophone; Mats Gustafsson saxophone; Peter Evans trumpet; Wolter Wierbos trombone; Joost Buis trombone; Paal Nilssen-Love drums.
The Ex – 33⅓ Festival Live at Cafe Oto, ‘And so Say all of Us’ (DVD).
The Ex and friends – The Ex 33.3 Years Anniversary Festival, Cafe Oto, 29 November – 01 December 2012.
Lean Left (The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo) at Cafe Oto, 19 September 2012.
Buy The Ex at Bimhuis (1991-2015) direct from Ex Records.