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Masha Bijlsma's come-back turns Zeister Bovenkamer into sultry jazz club

An upstairs room on an abandoned industrial estate becomes a cosy jazz club, a 43-year-old girl from the Achterhoek becomes a black jazz diva and her band makes a comeback after the demise of its musical director. With Masha Bijlsma, the wonders are not yet out of the world.

Music can make time stand still. That happens very rarely; I only experience it once or twice a year at most. It happens when the instruments, the voices and the circumstances no longer matter and only the sounds count. Often in the section after the interval, when an already close-knit group has warmed up. The musicians play in supreme concentration and the audience listens with equal dedication. You can hear a pin drop. Everyone knows: this is it. Now! And after ten minutes, it turns out that fifty minutes have passed. That seems unlikely, but you can't argue with a clock.

Masha Bijlsma Band reached this ultimate level in the second set, Saturday 10 January at De Bovenkamer in Zeist. Both Sides Now, a threadbare evergreen by Joni Mitchell, was given a brand new arrangement in which the austere chords and contrary accents seemed to detonate with the melody. But singer Masha Bijlsma elegantly draped that melody over it and, precisely because of that, the words "came in" to the audience.

She also sang The Peacocks, a ballad that pianist Jimmy Rowles composed decades back from behind his instrument without considering possible vocal performances. Masha sang the impossible winding melody without hesitation and, again, managed to convey the lyrics (written later).

Lest all music evaporate into rarefied beauty, the band closed with I'm Going To Chicago, a mud-fat blues with a long, long, very long bass solo by Henk de Ligt in which not a second of the attention waned.

All the while, Masha stayed true to her own timbre. What does that sound like? Very black and American; from a brittle sound á la Abbey Lincoln to the foghorn of the great soul divas. It remains miraculous to hear such a voice bubbling up from a blond girl from the Achterhoek. In this respect, Bijlsma resembles the late Peter Tetteroo, the Tee-Set singer who was renowned for his 'black' soul sound. Americans looked at the little guy from Delft suspiciously and only believed it was really him after he had taken a seat behind the microphone.

Masha Bijlsma's performance had more surreal aspects. The Upstairs Room turned out to be a little room above a piano shop, in the middle of an abandoned industrial estate. Was this really the right address? But at the top of the stairs, visitors were welcomed by piano dealer Henk Hupkes and lo and behold, there we found ourselves in the reassuring ambiance of a grand piano, a regiment of bottles of wine and subdued lighting.

The band itself experienced a special evening anyway, as this was the first performance in the central Netherlands without Rob van den Broeck from Soest, Bijlsma's pianist and 'musical director' for many years. Van den Broeck died in April 2012 at the age of 72. Some of Van den Broeck's friends had come to De Bovenkamer for this 'comeback'.

For a while, the band thought about throwing in the towel, also because this year marks the quartet's 25th anniversary; a round number and a nice span of time with many international (mainly German) successes and many prominent guest soloists. But with the arrival of pianist Ed Baatsen, the group has a complete sound again. Baatsen is an obliging, functional pianist who does not for a second attempt to imitate Van den Broeck. Musical leadership has shifted to bassist Henk de Ligt, a powerful 'walker' who almost imperceptibly indicates accents and dynamic differences. De Ligt is also a soloist who does not hide his virtuosity.

Behind the percussion, as ever, was father Dries Bijlsma (67). Indeed, Masha comes from a musical litter, to say the least. Mother is impresario Ietsje de Leeuw and her brother, Dries Bijlsma junior, is Typhoon's regular guitarist. With the rapper, he is in the house orchestra of De Wereld Draait Door.

Good to know

Masha Bijlsma Band, heard: Saturday 10 January, De Bovenkamer, Zeist.

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Jeroen de Valk

journalist/writer/musician, see www.jeroendevalk.nlView Author posts

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