AB BAARS

SONGS
GeestGronden CD GG 22

Usually when European improvisers say they’re going to be playing American music, their frame of reference is some style of jazz or blues. But Dutch woodwind master Ab Baars and his trio have tapped the primeval root source. All of the tunes here refer to Native Americans, while 10 out of 13 are authentic Indian songs arranged for jazz trio.

What results is both though-provoking and musically satisfying for good reason. If impressive improvised projects could result from mixing the music at various times with Norwegian folk songs, German art music or Brazilian pop songs why not from the music of a people, which over the years has been as, alienated and discriminated against as the African-Americans who created jazz? Several jazzmen had part Native American parentage, among them trombonist Big Chief Russell Moore and bassist Oscar Pettiford. But tenor saxophonist Jim Pepper’s jaunty “Witchi-Tai-To” was one of the few attempts to improvise on Aboriginal themes.

Baars, who is probably best known for his membership in the ICP Orchestra, has never been one to shirk challenges. Another of his trio discs salutes the music of clarinetist John Carter. A collector of authentic Native American music, on this CD he avoids the stereotypical pulsation Hollywood westerns have linked to Indian music. Jazman Tony Scott would recognize this music long before horse opera hero Randolph Scott.

Much of it has an outside cast as well. “Aotzi No-otz”, for instance, a Cheyenne victory song, features a chirping, reed-biting section from the clarinetist, as the bassist and drummer produce moccasin-light backing. Speedy tempos and go for broke soloing link this more cerebral application to Energy Music’s glory days on ESP-Disk. That’s fine as well, since veteran percussionist Martin van Duynhoven, was one of the few Europeans to record for that legendary label, in a quartet session with trumpeter Nedley Elstak in 1968.

No matter the fashion, van Duynhoven was no random banger those many moons ago, and today he’s even more laid-back. On “Klawulacha”, a Kwakitul dance song, he restricts himself to striking hollow sticks, while Baars on tenor is acting as if Albert Ayler grew up in that tribe and bassist Wilber de Joode bows out some harsh dissonant notes. Other time, as on “Wai-Kun” the drummer offers up some subtle, circular percussion as Baars, in unison with de Joode’s walking bass, picks out the theme on toy xylophone.

The bassist, who has worked with nearly everyone in Holland from drummer Han Bennink to cornettist Eric Boeren, is equally strong playing arco and pizzicato. Plucking away, he and the saxophonists toss lines in the hocketing play-party song “Jeux” with no difficulty, while “Wolf Song” an unaccompanied reading of a Dakota power melody is an unpretty examination of its underlying power at the bull fiddle’s highest pitch.

Bringing his most minimal treatment to clarinet on “Meshivotzi No-otz”, a Cheyenne lullaby, Baars alternately squeaks and blares out some barely audible tones, which languidly protracts its ending as if he had just recounted a bedtime tale for children. Earlier, on Guus Jansen’s “Indiann”, after making the most of false fingering, he seems to be savoring the theme as he rolls it around on his reed.

On tenor, he isn’t afraid to tackle jazz’s most-famous pseudo-Redskin piece either: Ray Noble’s “Cherokee”. But during the almost nine-minute deconstruction of the tune, he and the other musicians use its chords for open-ended improv, with Baars tongue slapping or whinnying and van Duynhoven going to war with his toms. Finally the very familiar melody is played for all of 20 seconds at the end.

Musical shading, not musical imitation, is what makes this collection of SONGS work so well. With well-thought-out arrangements and the smarts of committed improvisers, the three show how well Aboriginal sounds can be adapted and transformed into impressive improvisations.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing:1.Wai-Kun 2. Indiaan 3. Klawulacha 4. Hevebe Tawi 5. Cherokee 6. Wolf Song 7. Maliseet Love Song 8. Jeux 9. Clayaquot War Song 10. Aotzi No-otz 11. Meshivotzi No-otz 12. Dsichl Biyin 13. The Indians

Personnel: Ab Baars (clarinet and tenor saxophone); Wilbert de Joode (bass); Martin van Duynhoven (drums, percussion)