FEATURES Thirty Years Ago, Ronald Langestraat Took Jazz to Outer Space By Marcus J. Moore · July 16, 2019

In the early 1980s, Ronald Langestraat was a fixture in Amsterdam’s jazz scene; he played and recorded with the Latin-jazz bands Cascada and Ritmo Natural, building a respectable local following. But while Langestraat’s band projects were well received, fans and peers didn’t have the same enthusiasm for his solo work, which took the elegance of jazz, the passion of ‘70s soul, and the upbeat groove of salsa music and sent them into outer space. When his bandmates heard what he’d been working on, they laughed at him.

Crestfallen, Langestraat went home and wrote a song called “You Need To Cry,” addressing the ridicule he endured from his peers. “People are hurting one another,” he laments in the song. “I’m just a man with nothing else…but music.” In his living room, he powered up his four-track recorder and started playing any instrument he could get his hands on: electric and acoustic pianos, organs, drums, clarinets, saxophones, and the Moog synthesizer. He didn’t know what he’d come up with, but at least he was trying—which was more than he could say for his peers.

“I could do it on my own,” says Langestraat, now 79. “So I think, ‘I’m not waiting for nobody.’ They couldn’t do this, but I said I would never wait. I’d had enough of it, so I started my journey.”

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Formats: Vinyl LP, Digital

The result was Searching, the seven-track LP Langestraat recorded in 1984, which wanders through multiple genres without ever landing on one. Langestraat calls it “space jazz,” a Moog-driven form of electronic funk and dance with brooding lyrics laced with heartache, pain, and introspection. Searching is a bedroom record in the truest sense: the mix is muddy, and while Langestraat’s singing voice isn’t strong, that only adds to the album’s charm. It feels like the first scribblings of a man coming to grips with his newfound mental and artistic freedom.

That explains the searing honesty of “Girl where are you?”: Langestraat, in the midst of a divorce at the time, hired a prostitute and then fell in love with her; the song is about him trying to find the woman again. “Searching for my girl,” he croons, “I’m searching everywhere, but I just can’t find you.” (Today, Langestraat is sheepish about the song’s subject matter, though he maintains came from an honest place.) “Gotta get away” addresses the frustration he felt in Amsterdam at the time—he wanted to escape the noise and find peace in the countryside. Over stomping percussion and rising synth chords, he sings, “Got to get out of this town, I’m fed up and I’m really down / I want to find a quiet place … material things here that’s what counts.” Langestraat pressed Searching to CD and played it for his friends and peers, but their response told him all he needed to know. “I gave it to musicians and I heard nothing, nothing at all,” he says today. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise—the lack of attention meant Langestraat was free to be his fully creative self.

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Formats: Vinyl LP, Digital

Two years later, Langestraat landed a residency at the Apollo Hotel in Amsterdam, a swanky spot known for its high-rolling clientele. On the surface, the gig seemed like a poor fit for both venue and artist. But to Langestraat’s surprise, the higher-ups at the hotel were actually quite open-minded. “They asked for a piano player, but I came in with modules, a computer, and a sequencer,” he recalls. “I came in with everything, and they said, ‘You don’t have to do this.’ But then I played for the boss and he said ‘I want you.’”

There was just one condition: “I had to play soft. If I were to be soft, I could do everything. Everything. I was completely free.” He played in the lounge five days a week, five hours a day, as hotel patrons held business meetings and talked privately at the bar. That no one danced or paid him any attention was of zero concern to Langestraat; the man preferred it that way.

Formats: Vinyl LP, Digital

In 1991, five years into his residency, Langestraat captured several of his live performances from that year on a tape recorder. The resulting LP, Apollo, funnels the best of those performances—everything from his own self-created compositions to reinterpreted covers—into a single set. Compared to the melancholic electronica of Searching, the music feels more improvised and panoramic; the heady reverb, computerized drums, and cosmic synths are still there, but serve as vehicles for comfort, rather than opposed to catharsis. “Space train,” with its subtle piano loop and pronounced saxophone solo, exudes the ease of a Sunday brunch. On “Music from outer space,” “Worldwide clarinet,” “Lowdown,” and “Orpheus,” you can hear hotel chatter in the background, which both gives the album texture and speaks directly to Langestraat’s aesthetic: He’s off to himself, fully immersed in his own musical world, and the people around him don’t even bat an eye. Thirty-five years after Langestraat’s first album, his sound feels remarkably current. Today’s music isn’t as boxed in as it was when Langestraat first started making music, and the public is more receptive to esoteric art like his. Either way he’s not worried about it; the smiling Dutchman still doesn’t care about money or accolades. “I study always,” he says. “I still play in restaurants and bars once a week—for a meal and beer.”

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