In a barn on a farm in the countryside north-west of Groningen in the northern Netherlands the audience is sitting on hay bales listening to a rigorous investigation of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time-era sturm und drang.

In the same time slot two churches and another farm building are filled with the sound of  spontaneous creativity from a trio including American improvising bass titan William Parker, the bamboo flute, guitar and electronica adventures of Bitch ‘n’ Monk and an intense conversation between guitarist Marzio Scholten and bassist Ernst Glerum of the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra. 

Welcome to Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour, the annual jazz and fitness festival that invites people to get on their bikes – the Dutch don’t need much persuasion – and pedal round a circuit of venues, some ad hoc, others built for more spiritual worship, where a startlingly varied programme awaits.

Into the fairly conventional, melodic improvising of Penguins Too (aka saxophonist Frank Nielander and pianist Michiel Braam) you might arrive from the utterly theatrical cabaret cum leider cum recitation frolics of Greetje Bijma with her percussively colourful consœurs, violinist Mary Oliver and pianist Nora Mulder.

Equally, the unashamed party spirit of Surinaam-meets-New Orleans nonet De Nazaten will be permeating a marquee adjacent to the shed where, shortly afterwards, another ICP Orchestra member, saxophonist-clarinettist Tobias Delius, cornetist Eric Boeren and pianist Alexander Hawkins will turn the written motifs in front of them into gripping solo, duo and trio explorations well beyond their apparent brief.

The festivities began on Friday with a “proloog” in Simplon, a rock venue in Groningen itself, featuring the brilliantly articulate French cellist Vincent Courtois in a trio with twin tenors Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker and Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen’s super-energetic, searching, grooving Angles 9.

Courtois’ fierce arco bite and delicate strumming were perfectly matched by Erdmann and Fincker, who doubled on clarinet, playing stabs and counter melodies as the cello sang out lines that owed as much to an electric guitar or a bagpipe chanter as to an orchestral instrument.

This was invigorating and immediate music played with absolute conviction, the perfect appetiser for Angels 9, whose unerring rhythmical impetus, with vibraphone joining piano, bass and drums, sustained a five-strong frontline where interlinking folk melodies converged with fearless and dynamic two trumpets, alto, baritone and trombone improvisation. Touches such as vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl hammering a string of cowbells onto the metal bars added to the sound of surprise and although the overall effect of the ensemble is paramount in this case, hearing the great Magnus Broo’s intense, fiery trumpet playing was a special treat.

The idea for the Saturday is that cyclists follow a suggested route. The Lage – or low – Route wittily took its followers off on a tour of baritone saxophones, tubas, bass clarinets and double basses.  But this is only a suggestion and once you buy a wrist band, you can go where you please around thirty-plus sessions.

Many of these were heavily subscribed with queues waiting for people to leave so that they could partake of the next course, and the great free jazz drummer-consummate performance artist, Han Bennink’s marvellous trio with Belgian reeds player Joachim Badenhorst and Danish pianist Simon Toldam had to be cajoled into playing an extra set to meet demand. Small wonder: at seventy-five, Bennink is playing with extraordinary fire in a group that breathes new life into standards as much as it delivers completely spontaneous music. 

It’s an event that runs with superb efficiency and an enviable amiability as farmers’ entire families get involved in serving food and drinks to cyclist and car driver alike. They even create “chandeliers” made from old cycle mudguards to acts as house lights. The carefully chosen programme, along with the wonderful organisation, is a credit to Marcel Roelofs, who initiated the festival and thirty-two years on oversees it with a jovial laidback approach, even when flights from Moscow are cancelled and drivers have to be dispatched to Schiphol Airport to ensure that musicians get from baggage reclaim to stage in the tightest of schedules.

As the fiery, free and exuberant Bacchanalia roared Saturday to a close with Gato Barbieri-esque overtones,  Roelofs and his team could afford to reflect on a thirty-second instalment whose quality and all round good vibe will surely encourage the cyclists to keep the corresponding weekend in 2019 free for the thirty-third edition.

Rob Adams attended Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour as a guest of Dutch Performing Arts, a programme that promotes Dutch music, theatre and dance on the international stage. The programme is powered by the Performing Arts Fund NL.