TRIJNTJE OOSTERHUIS / “Walk On By”
Hang with me a minute… this one is something different but ends up deep, deep, deeply in the center of soul music but in a totally unexpected way.
It's almost like there are three different singers here: 1. a pop singer represented by the first song, 2. a pretty-music, smooth jazz chantuese represented by the big band with strings songs, and finally 3. a soulful jazz singer represented by the guitar/vocal duo songs. You can get whiplash just keeping up with the style changes but the end product is worth the trip.
This is a Dutch singer. Hence the name, all those consonants and just two vowels in the first name. I know it may seem strange but hold on.
Judith Katrijntje Oosterhuis was born on February 5, 1973 in Amsterdam. She is currently the leading vocalist in The Netherlands.
The short story is that she started out and became a major success in Holland working with her brother in a pop band called Total Touch. As their bio notes: they sold “more than a million records over a four-year period (1996-1999) – in a small country where 80.000 is already considered platinum.” Total Touch was all the rage until Trijntje decided that was not the way she wanted to go with her career.
So she did some solo outings in her transition from the fame/fortune of Total Touch to her next plateau. Another platinum seller was her live album of Stevie Wonder songs. And then record companies showered her with offers. She ended up on EMI/Blue Note.
She produced two albums that had a contemporary urban pop sound. Representative of that direction I’ve included one cut, “All Around The World” from her 2003 self titled album, Trijntje Oosterhuis.
She could have easily gone that way except she was more interested in two other genres: soul and jazz.
Trijntje did a jazz album that focused on the music of Billie Holiday and George Gershwin, big band arrangements with strings. The music was buffed to a radio-friendly sheen and again enjoyed great success.
The cut “Man I Love” is from her 2004 Strange Fruit album which, despite the title, had a romantic and optimistic sound. The album went double-platinum. Then another adult pop album. Back and forth, all commercially successful.
For me this music is one (medium) step removed from expensive wallpaper, by which I mean there is a certain attractiveness to it as background but I don’t find it particularly engaging for serious listening. Nevertheless, I am clearly in the minority of those who have been exposed to these recordings. I suspect my hard jazz heart just doesn’t respond to this direction, which sounds suspiciously like a kissing cousin of smooth jazz.
Next came a major development an album of Burt Bacharach songs—they even got Bacharach to play piano on a couple of cuts. That was both safe and dangerous for a female singer to undertake—safe because so many Bacharach songs had been hits, dangerous because so many of them are indelibly associated with Dionne Warwick.
The gamble paid off big time with a major selling album, 2007’s Look of Love: Burt Bacharach Songbook. “The Look of Love,” “Alfie” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart (Live)” are all from that album. The live version of “Anyone” is a bonus cut on the second edition of Look of Love. FM radio loves this stuff and, to be fair, the production is first rate: real strings, professional arrangements, there is nary a miscue or mistake.
Listen to the intro of “Alfie.” With an eye toward international sales, Trijntje Oosterhuis is now billed as “Traincha.” This is music for baby boomers and the challenge is how does one keep this stuff fresh, especially as its designed to stay on the shelf for years with a long period of appealing to folks in their late forties to early sixties who remember these songs as the music of their youth.
The live cut, “Anyone Who Had A Heart” has a bit more bite to it and as such is more to my taste. Sales were so brisk that Blue Note did what most majors do when they have a winner: they double down and try to cash in. In Trijntje’s case they produced a second album of Bacharach songs, Who’ll Speak For Love (2008).
Lightening strikes twice. “One Less Bell To Answer” is from the second Bacharach album. By now many of you are wondering has Kalamu completely lost it? This easy listening can’t be what he’s digging. What’s this got to do with black music?
Well. It’s simple I didn’t start with the simple stuff, the first thing I heard was a brand new release that I really, really like, Kin Je Mij (2008), a duet album with guitarist Leonardo Amuedo that’s not even available yet even as an import. So I’m featuring something that many of you can’t get hold off except for listening on BoL.
But, wow, listen to these cuts. A number of quick observations. 1. The guitar work of Leonardo. 2. Trijntje singing in Dutch and not restricting herself to the safe Bacharach songs. 3. Trijntje singing full out and establishing herself as a major league soul/jazz vocalist.
Turns out, I didn’t know it but I had already been digging my man’s guitar work. I am especially taken with a duo guitar album he did with a Brazilian artist, Arismar do Espirito Santo, who is the lead artist.
Leonardo was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1967, moved to The Netherlands in 1990 where he worked with numerous artists including producing Dutch singer Laura Fygi’s album The Latin Touch. In 2002 he moved to Rio and for the last six years has been a member of Ivan Lins’ band.
The man is a monster on the guitar. Note his solo on “Walk On By,” note all the little rhythmic touches throughout, take especially notice of his harmonic sophistication, enjoy the variety of his touch and texture in the sounds he produces. There is not one moment of monotony even though the whole two hours or so is made up of just one voice and one guitar.
Remember earlier I said the thing about Trijntje being billed as Traincha and doing all her songs in English. Well, from the title alone you know that Kin Je Mij is no attempt to pass her off as anglo. Here is the major nexus with and inspiration by black music. At its best, black music is based on authentic identity, regardless of what you’re singing, be yourself—at the same time, go and grow in whatever direction you want to go/grow.
I’ve included two of the handful of Dutch titles among the 25 cuts on the double CD/DVD release. Black music at it’s very core is a “creole” music that is a gift to the world and those in the world who love the music, respond to it and are inspired by it are welcomed to add to the every growing body of sounds. Or that’s the way I look at it.
A bit of trivia. The Netherlands is consistently the second highest source of international BoL traffic (Great Britain is first).
But it’s Trijntje’s vocal work on Ken Je Mij that is the core reason I’m so high on this singer. If I had started from the beginning of her career, I might not have stuck with her this far. She is a warning to me, don’t judge too soon and don’t be too judgmental about early efforts.
Turns out that Trijntje is finding herself and fully expressing herself through a rich mixture of soul, jazz and Dutch music. It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful to see the world developing as a result of an interaction with black culture.
Without qualification, I think Trijntje's work on Ken Je Mij is absolutely first rate singing. Hopefully, you share my enthusiasm.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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