Monday, May 18, 2009

Rediscovery: Tys van Leer "Nice To Have Met You"

Classically trained flautist, keyboardist and master yodeler Thijs van Leer (b. 1948, Amsterdam), whose first name was Amercian-ized to "Tys" for this album (it's also appeared as "Thys" elsewhere), came to prominence in the late 1960s as part of the internationally famed Dutch rock band Focus. The group also spawned guitarist Jan Akkerman, who surprisingly recorded the surprising Aranjuez (CBS, 1978) with Claus Ogerman the same year as this album by his former Focus partner.

Nice To Have Met You (Columbia, 1978) is Leer's fourth solo album - following larger-scale solo projects arranged by Rogier van Otterloo (Rita Reys, film scores for the early films of Paul Verhoeven) and Paul Buckmaster (Miles Davis, Elton John, Carly Simon) - and the first that ever saw the light of day in the United States.

It's a tremendous slice of jazz fusion that gathers its name from the flautist's first visit to the United States in November 1977. Leer, as writer B. Lynn Micale notes on the album's back side, "was overwhelmed by the sincerity and friendliness of those he encountered. And, at the end of every conversation, a phrase which struck him as being typically American, recurred, '…nice to have met you.'"

In these days following the plentitude of America bashing abroad, it's hard to say if this was meant ironically or not. But it seems sincere enough. It sounds sincere enough too, mostly because there is a distinct chemistry between the mostly American session musicians and their Dutch leader.

This Ralph MacDonald-Tom Scott production prominently features Leer's story-like compositions, with Tom Scott giving the "American" touch to "My Sweetheart," "Nice To Have Met You (Concrete)," "Pastorale" and "Rosebud" and William Eaton arranging the remaining four tracks.

Leer is heard on flutes and synthesizers throughout, backed more than capably by a first-tier rhythm section of prominent New Yorkers including Richard Tee on keyboards, Eric Gale and Steve Khan on guitar, Anthony Jackson on bass, Ralph MacDonald on congas and percussion and, oddly enough, the brilliant West Coaster Harvey Mason on drums.

Fellow Focus guitarist Eef Albers is also on hand (with solos on "Nice To Have Met You" and "Hocus Pocus") as well as a horn section of New York session royalty on four cuts ("Hocus Pocus," "Super Ffishell," "My Sweetheart" and "Nice To Have Met You"), strings on three cuts ("Pastorale," "Nice To Have Met You" and "Rosebud") and background vocalists, including Gwen Guthrie, on two cuts ("Bahama Mama" and "Super Ffishell").

The album's best tracks are all found on side two, starting with "Tonight beneath the Sky," a Caribbean-styled groove that sounds as if it could have been inspired by Eric Gale, but finds Leer overdubbing catchy flute licks overtop Tee's grooving, fluid electric-piano lines.

Next best is "Rosebud," which could have perfectly found a home on any number of Tappan Zee albums - and inspiring Leer to, perhaps, his best performance on the record (Tom Scott's minimal string work here crosses Claus Ogerman's Benson groove with Wade Marcus' flourishes for West Coast jazz guys at the time).

The hardly subtle "Super Ffishell" is a happy funk piece that suggests Intimate Strangers/Street Beat-era Tom Scott, and even benefits by Scott's only tenor sax solo on the record (I think Scott takes an uncredited lyricon solo on the title track too). Leer doesn't have much to do here, but his engagement with the groove and his semi-sparring with Scott make it all worthwhile.

Leer plays his "Pastorale" as if to suggest Swedish flautist Bjorn J:son Lindh. But the muscular rhythm section propels the flautist far above the proceedings to deliver an entirely different message altogether, caressed by the engaging, lilting funk of Scott's witty string writing (Scott's characteristic horn writing in "Nice To Have Met You" is something to behold too).

William Eaton gives "Bahama Mama" a Stuff-like groove (Gale's solo drives the point home) and the flautist provides perhaps the strongest performance of this tune heard on record. The song was earlier performed by the song's composer, Alphonso Johnson, with Eric Gale, Steve Khan and Ralph MacDonald, as part of Montreux Summit (Columbia, 1977), an earlier concert that also showcased Leer on other selections. Scott and Khan recorded the song again with Johnson for Alivemutherforya (Columbia, 1978), so it's safe to say these guys knew the song. But, here, they really do something with it.

Anybody wandering into this album looking for connections back to Focus won't be disappointed either. Leer gives attention to two Focus-era tracks, most prominently, a very rock-oriented remake of the group's 1971 worldwide hit "Hocus Pocus" (written by Leer with Akkerman, originally from the 1970 album Focus II, which was later re-titled Moving Waves) complete with Leer's distinctive and strangely unforgettable ("oh yea!") yodeling.

The album's opener, "My Sweetheart," which originally appeared on the 1975 Focus album Mother Focus, is audibly driven by guitarist Steve Khan and wouldn't sound out of place on any of his first three solo albums (especially his second album, The Blue Man, recorded shortly after Leer's, also with MacDonald).

All in all, a great album - which, of course, is unlikely to ever see the light of day on CD - and not nearly as weird or as unusual as the Magritte-styled cover artwork by Richard Hess, allegedly commissioned by the great designer (and personal hero of mine), Paula Scher. Scher's hand in the design is immediately evident in the album cover's typography.

As an aside, it might interest some to note that Tys van Leer, Tom Scott and William Eaton add handclaps - yes, just handclaps - to Bobbi Humphrey's funky "Home-Made Jam," a groove penned by William Eaton, from Humphrey's album Freestyle (Epic, 1978), which in addition to featuring Nice to Have Met You's Ralph MacDonald, Richard Tee, Eric Gale and Anthony Jackson in the rhythm section, was produced at the same time by Ralph MacDonald.

Thanks to Pekis and the original poster, you can download the album here.


Pekis said...


Thanks to the original uploader:

Douglas Payne said...

Thanks again, Pekis.

ultieme muziekrecensie said...

Just bought this album at the second hand store; didn't know a fellow Dutchman like Thijs could have made such a funky fusion album, thanks for the insights about this little known gem!

TheTangibleTangerine said...

Thanks for the review! Excellent and very thoughtful write-up!