At last, we’ve reached the seventies. I’ve rarely commented on album sleeves but take a good gawk at our Rob – the brooding eyes, the manicured facial hair, the blow wave and part, the sideburns. Nice. In 1970, Rob was moonlighting as a jazz pianist and playing organ in the churches of his home town, Amsterdam, while maintaining a full time job as school teacher. Mr. van Dyke must’ve been pretty hip with the kids when his debut album came out. Or not. From the back sleeve:
Rob van Dyke’s interpretations never stray away from the spirit of the Dylan originals, yet manage to leave room in which the trio may freely move around. The idea being to capture the essence while saying something new and original. It is an exciting experience to hear these new impressions of Bob Dylan songs by so imaginative a pianist as Rob van Dyke.
Hokay, I’m going to be the judge of that. Exciting? Imaginative? Or soporific? For the most part I’d say these are tastefully enough done, perhaps too tasteful, in that, unless you sit down and really listen to it, it drifts by without much fanfare. It’s just piano, bass and drums. Most of the interesting work is being done by Rob, but the blurb is only half right: he doesn’t stray far from the melody, but I’m not so sure that he sticks with the spirit. The upshot is that Rob van Dyke Plays Bob Dylan sounds pretty much how you’d expect a straight set of Dylan covers played by a hairy Dutch school teacher slash jazz pianist from 1970. That’s the disappointing thing. One might have hoped for something a bit more left field to prevent this from turning into muzak, which over the course of an album, I’m afraid to say it does. Nevermind, here’s Alan Bumstead tinkling the qwerty…
The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)…opens up with a jaunty piano riff that sounds very much like a TV theme of the seventies. That’s what I said about Dylan Jazz too. I can’t help it. It really does. I’ve been playing this album on and off for a couple of weeks and this track has really grown on me. Midway through the song, everyone stops and they start up from scratch again. Van Dyke teases the listener by threatening to go full on into the tune but then holding back, and then all three of them let loose and push the tune forward. I guess it’s just a great song. Very melodic and some neat syncopation between drums and piano.
I Shall Be Released…sounds like late night cocktail lounge jazz. Just a quiet piano line and a few bass blips here and there. When the tune starts, again it’s got a real lonesome plaintive feel about. It sounds much more melancholic than anyone else’s version. The drummer holds back until we hear a continuous brush on the cymbal, quietly, while van Dyke plays a slow melody that doesn’t bring anything of the tune to my ears. He’s confident on the keys though so I have to acknowledge the restraint. I wouldn’t quite put it in the muzak camp, even if it is a little Richard Clayderman.
Like A Rolling Stone…opens with a low warm chordal structure which is echoed by notes on the high end. A light rhythm supports. The ‘Rolling Stone’ tune is clearly audible in the melody and when the chorus comes on, it’s all played very straight and loudly. The next section is more complicated, like he’s doubling every note. “You used to talk about / Everybody that was hanging out.” Again, the slower pace and lonesome piano give the verse parts a touching poignancy, almost as good as the Gotham String Quartet’s version. The only thing I don’t like is when the chorus gets played at twice the volume as the verses. He captures a mood here, a subliminal sad spirit of the original that you have to listen to quite hard to hear in Dylan’s version.
Blowin’ In The Wind…opens with syncopated chords and a tiny tinkle on the cymbal. The bass is more prominent here. When Rob returns to the chorus every few bars he does this real slow syncopated stop start thing, before launching more fully into the melody. Quite jazzy, but also very nice, and with that insistent light rock beat this can only be described as elevator jazz. I mean the whole album is muzak really, but some are more obvious than others. Still, Rob manages to make this quite funky in places.
Belle Isle…okay, so I pulled out my copy of Self Portrait because I wasn’t familiar with this tune and played Dylan’s version over a few times. It sounded like one of those Irish ballad love songs to me. But after a few spins I got bored and put the record back in the cupboard. Rob plays it really slow and subdued, and again, it’s a candles on the piano kind of thing. A simple melody with a rising/falling inflection and undertones of sorrow. Fades out.
With God On Our Side…opens right into the vocal melody and plays it with single piano notes until he gets to “With God on our side.” It’s quite sparse though, until about ninety seconds in when Rob takes flight and does a series of alternating chordal patterns, while both the bass and drums pick up the pace and volume. That ends, and they essentially take it back to the start. Neat bass line this time though. But quiet, until the noisy chorus takes off again with volume and speed. Very jazzed up. Not bad, but not really conveying much of the message to my ears. I suppose the way everything stops as Rob returns to the single note thing reminds you of the repeating history in Dylan’s lyrics.
I Want You…a slowly rolling piano line at the start, with a little pick up in pace, and then a total rush of volume with bass and drums adding a marching beat. Have to say though that I can’t really hear the melody here, not even in the chorus. Maybe just a little. Van Dyke jazzes out the best part of the melody and keeps it riding on a wave of high notes without quite dropping properly into the chorus. A break while the drummer has a ten second solo, and Rob returns with his slowly rolling piano lines. Quite earnest sounding. Not sure if Rob quite catches the spirit of desire here.
The Times They Are A-Changin’…very slow candle light jazz opening with accompaniment from bass on the chord changes. I do not recognize the tune here at all. It’s too slow. It could be anything at all as far as I can tell. Standard late night piano music. Very strange.
Memphis Blues Again (sic)…cuts off half the title. It has a much harder keyboard sound. Much more perky and upbeat with strong chords pounding out a rhythm until the main chorus comes in. Very short.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right…again, very slow quiet piano. Rob works his way round the tune but it’s so slow it’s hard to tell where he’s at with it. I’m half expecting this to launch into a full on assault any moment. Sounds like the bass is being bowed here which is a nice touch. Is he capturing the spirit of the tune here? Not in any way that I can tell. I suppose it would help to be a musician to know how and why this is a cover of Dylan, where the chord changes are. Nope, the whole thing is very quiet and laidback and soulful, until at some point later in the song Rob starts plonking those piano keys harder and harder, building it up to a big crescendo and letting the air out again. Is he really playing ‘Don’t Think Twice’? He’s certainly exercising some jazzetic license here.
Just Like A Woman…sticks much more closely to the main melody, and plays it tastefully straight, with a moody bass line beneath the sparsely placed piano notes, but I like that – the way you can hear the melody scattered over the bars with different timing and phrasing to the original. The chorus returns and Rob plays it straight with a little syncopation on the melody. Some improvised frills, some delicate high notes. Now here’s one he could have played more slowly and sorrowfully to milk the sad part of the melody, which he doesn’t really do. It changes quite a bit. This is easily one of the jazziest pieces here. Seems like a case of saving the best for last, although my favourite was the opening number. And the credits roll…
So, yeah. I’d be doing myself a disservice if I laid down any claims that this has any redeeming features. It’s a little too candle-light, a little too trite, a little late night lounge bar and a little too TV theme for my tastes.
I guess I’ve provided most of the bio info in the introduction. There’s nothing else I can find out on the web about the Rob van Dyke Trio. From the back sleeve however, we learn that Rob is the younger brother of the “multi-talented Louis van Dyke.” Here we also have Jelle Kikkert on bass and Erik Graber on drums. Rob was born on December 1st 1943 which would make him 27 at the time of recording this album and 68 now if he’s still alive. Rob van Dyke plays Dylan is his debut album. His elder brother Louis was also fond of tinkering with (destroying) great artists’ back catalogues. There’s a picture on the back sleeve of Louis van Dyke Plays Lennon-McCartney. Rob also recorded an album with The Rivals, a gospel choir of forty singers with Rob on piano.