It’s always an exciting moment when a new CD arrives at CeltCast HQ and it goes into the CD player. What can we expect? is it good? Do we like it? Which songs can we play? All questions that are spinning through our minds as the first seconds of a new CD tick away. In the case of Hans Elzinga these questions were quickly answered. Yes, we did like it and soon enough the music team started sending each other messages, telling us about how much we liked this beautiful, calming CD.
But this album also posed a problem: Although it was recorded by a member of the Dutch folk band Parsley; although it was acoustic guitar music; although it was recorded by the amazing ‘sound witch’ (Hans’ words, not mine) Fieke van den Hurk at her Dearworld studio, one thing it wasn’t: folk music. A slight problem if your station’s format is based on acoustic ‘folk’ music. So we had a quick virtual team meeting and decided to bend the rules as far as we possibly could because this album deserves all the attention we can give it.
So here we go, we give you Introspective, an instrumental album by Dutch acoustic guitar – and flute player Hans Elzinga. We have already established that Introspective isn’t a folk album as such, so what is it then? Well, I would call it one of the best contemporary instrumental guitar and flute albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Hans is a D.I.Y artist and a very, very talented one for that matter. He composed all the songs, played all the guitar most of the flute and whistle. He often – during live performances at least – uses a loop pedal so he can accompany himself on rhythm guitar while he plays the guitar- or flute solos. He also made his own nylon string flamenco guitar, and he deliberately uses heavier strings for the 1st and 6th position on his steel-string guitar, so he can get the lower, more rich sound he is looking for. Combine a musician like this – somebody clearly seeking his own way in music- with Fieke van den Hurk and something really special starts to happen. As we all know Fieke will also go the extra- sometimes unconventional- mile to find that specific sound an instrument, a song or even a single note needs, so combine those two together and you get a silver disc filled with magic.
If you also add Rob Musters on soprano sax, Davide Lionette on percussion, Stan Stolk -former Flairck– on double bass ánd Parsley colleague Maaike van der Waal on Irish flute, then heaven opens for the true music lover.

With me talking so much about compositions and acoustic guitars it’s easy to think Introspective consists of classical guitar recitals. When you look at the song titles, De Klank Van Wierook, Sterrenlicht, Dryadendans, you are just as likely to think Introspective is a new age music album. Neither are true. All songs are true and proper pop songs, with a clear start and finish and a down to earth feel to it. A soulful feel as well. Sometimes the songs are clean ballads, sometimes bluesy grooves, sometimes jazzy improvisations and sometimes even acoustic prog-pop soundscapes. (I didn’t even know those existed, but Hans plays them.) He himself refers to 80’s acts like Genesis or Pat Metheny as possible references. With his slightly bluesy, soulful, clean way of playing, I would like to add the acoustic segments played by Mark Knopfler in his 80’s Dire Straits days and the solo work of Tommy Bolin: one of the former solo guitarists of Deep Purple that sadly passed away way too soon. (Just give Gypsy Soul a listen and you’ll know what I mean)

Many of Hans’ songs remind me of the acoustic guitar sections that were so common in the music of ’70s and ’80s- just think of Pink Floyd’s intro of Wish You Were Here, Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road or Once Upon A Time In The West, But where bands of those days then went into the rock part, or the voices came in, Hans keeps it acoustic, the voices replaced by either his lead guitar melody or the flute/whistle tunes he plays. And I’m loving every note of it.
Now I won’t go into every song individually, that would be silly – for one how many times can you say this is beautiful acoustic guitar music before it gets boring to read- So I’ll just pick out my favorites as I listen and comment on those.

My first favorite is opening song De Klank Van Wierook – the sound of essence- Just as essence this song fills your whole room with gentle, beautiful (first time) guitar chords but, as I said before, in a pleasant ‘grounded’ way. It’s a song, not a floating spacy soundscape. I love how this song just seems to slow down time and make you feel all relax in your mind. The soothing low whistle part just adds to that feel perfectly. The best cure against stress I used in a loooong time.

Lu Core Meu is partly inspired by a painting from Johfra called “Het vertrek van de tempelschatten, and partly by a south Italian folk song: Lu Rusciu Te Le Mare. The beginning of the song has this slight Mediterranean, slightly Spanish feel to it. That feel ends when Hans starts looping the second guitar theme he plays and starts playing bamboo flute over it. The loop has a hypnotizing effect, used just as effectively as a certain Mike Oldfield did many decades ago in songs like Incantations part 2. The mesmerizing bamboo flute gives this song a lovely pagan folk feel.

If I wasn’t calm by now, the sound of waves, used as an intro for the song Golven -waves- will do the trick quite nicely. But not only the sound effect does. Hans’ beautiful (second time) guitar melody again has that calming tranquil effect. Listening to Golven I also find it unbelievable how much ‘sound’ Fieke manages to pull out of a single guitar. It is as if every string has its own little microphone. Astonishing work.

The title song Introspective, as almost all the songs on this album, starts with a ‘simple’ but beautifully (third time) calming guitar melody. In all his compositions Hans takes his time to develop these melodies further and further, and Introspective with its length of 9:12 minutes is no exception. And the best bit: every note is there for a reason, it has a place and a meaning. therefore the music flows through your mind as a total bliss of calm notes. Then, in this song Introspective, the pace picks up, the energy level rises and percussionist Davide Lionetti joins in while Hans’ whistle playing turns this calm peaceful bit of guitar music into a weird acid jazz acoustic rock thing. It is as if I’m back to the days when I heard my first Flairck album. Peter Weekers, then Flute player of this groundbreaking Dutch formation, could literally talk with his flute, something I also know from Acid jazz rockers Sweet Smoke; SeeD‘s lovely flute player Koen van Egmond and, now also from Hans Elzinga. Easily one of my favourite bits on this impressive album.

Talking about Flairck, one of the many former Flairck members Stan Stolk plays double bass on Sterrenlicht – starlight- he is, after Percussionist Davide Lionetti, the second guest musician to appear on Introspective, in this song together with Rob Musters on soprano sax.
Sterrenlicht was written while Hans was playing on the Taribush Kuna festival in the art installation of Bart Ensing and Lidwina Charpentier. A fairylike experience he says, never to forget.
So you might think this could finally turn new age-ish. Not Hans, we go jazz, easy jazz, think Gare Du Nord without the beats. Lovely calming again, but always grounded, it always serves the song. This is the music you want to hear in a small amphitheatre. With some easy lights and everybody sinking in real comfy in a huge pile of pillows instead of hard theatre chairs. (That would be a magical experience, a concert played by Hans like that.)

Drempel – threshold- has a soulful acoustic Mark Knopfler feel to it and would also fit perfectly in that pillow themed concert. The seventh song, Dryadendans – dryads dance-, is another song that has all the ingredients for a pagan folk- or new age song in its title and in the explanation about its origin in the booklet. But again no. The song flows from a typical Hans Elzinga solo acoustic guitar opening into lovely acoustic prog-pop, then into some prog rock meets Dire Straits as Hans brings that low 6th string into full use. I didn’t know acoustic prog rock existed, but Hans is playing it right here, right now. What a lovely section around that 4-minute mark.
And things are about to get even better. (better if you have the same taste for music as I have that is.) Hans brings in Stan Stolk and Rob Musters one more time for another song based upon a Johfra painting: Middernachtmystie -Midnight Mystery-. This song has Flairck written al over it. Strong guitar chords, a lovely free jazz improvisation part by saxophonist Rob, Hans his intriguing style of talking whistle cutting through the music. This is really the highlight of the CD for me, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was done in one recording session, it sure feels like it. It has this feel of musicians starting a song, flowing with it, not knowing when it will end, not caring about that anyway and a sound genius capturing it all. To be a fly on the wall at that moment. I really wish I was.
Just as Flairck does, Hans brings down the intensity of the song halfway through again for a lovely bit of calming flute and beautiful (fifth time, is it getting boring already?) Spanish style guitar. But not for long. Rob’s Soprano sax starts ripping that calm moment to pieces again, quick to be followed by Hans’ spoken whistle improvisations. In one word, A-MA-ZING.

Well, that -only point out a few of my favorite bits- idea turned out nicely. NOT! With the ninth song Onder De Oude Eik – under the old oak tree- we are at the end of Introspective and I mentioned them all! It says a lot about this album actually. Introspective is a highlight that lasts 54:09 minutes. Timeless acoustic guitar music at its very very best.

Video Café Acoustique shared with kind permission of Omroep Heemskerk.

– Cliff

Editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Nienke Cleveringa