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Han Bennink
Photograph: Michael Jackson Han Bennink

Han Bennink and friends

Tonic; Tue 9, Wed 10

By Hank Shteamer

Minutes into percussionist Han Bennink’s duet with Peter Brötzmann at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center in October, a broken drumstick came whizzing into the audience, barely missing the ear of a young man in the second row. While continuing to play, the lanky 64-year-old frowned down at the shard still in his hand, scanned the crowd to make sure nothing was amiss and flashed his irresistible broad smile. Such minor hazards are the norm at Bennink performances, but the risk is more than worth it.

The ruddy Dutchman—who frequently performs in shorts, clunky work boots and a red bandanna—is one of experimental improv’s rare cutups. He’s just as likely to demonstrate his impeccable brush technique on a flattened cardboard box as a snare drum; at a memorable 2000 Lincoln Center gig, he ignited a newspaper and bombarded duo partner Misha Mengelberg with flaming missiles. But amid these absurdist displays, he’ll bowl you over with panstylistic jazz mastery. His always-accessible brand of virtuosity, marked by dizzying full-kit rolls and chugging big-band–style swing, meshes equally well with volcanic soloists such as Brötzmann and elliptical ones like Mengelberg. The esteemed players slated to join him at Tonic fall somewhere between these poles: Trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxist Ellery Eskelin and pianist Anthony Coleman all have the wit and breadth required to engage their elder, not to mention the quick reflexes needed to dodge the occasional airborne splinter.


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