Ab Baars Quartet

Kinda Dukish
WIG 12

Not your father’s – or come to think of it your mother’s – Duke Ellington, Amsterdam-based clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Ab Baars has adapted 10 Ellington compositions for his quartet. More properly he’s performed major surgery on the tunes and reassembled them in such a distinctive way that it’s likely the composer may not have recognized his musical progeny at first.

Still, the approach taken by Baars and his fellow note surgeons – trombonist Joost Buis, bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven – gives new life to the compositions, as if each has received a heart transplant. Personalities alter after operations like that, but considering most of the ducal cannon has remained beyond category since he wrote it, why not celebrate it deconstructed rather than copied note for note? The positive answer is on this disc.

Assiduous in noting every Ellington opus on which each of his “Kinda” recreations is based, the reedist also involves each of his band mates in the completed improvisation. Martin van Duynhoven, who is also a graphic designer, and de Joode, who plays in many bands such as pianist Michiel Braam’s, make up Baars trio and earlier helped rearrange music from American clarinetist John Carter and North American Indians. Buis, who also plays with Braam and leads the Astronauts, a band that celebrates Sun Ra’s Arkestra, knows how to rebirth music as well.

Mixing renowned (“Caravan” and “Prelude to a Kiss”) and unfamiliar (“Mr. Gentle and Mr., Cool” and “Half the Fun”) Ellington material, Baars keep the band members and the listeners on their aural toes. Because most of the pieces are restructured there’s no attempt to emulate Ellington soloists. But Buis’s growly plunger work throughout has been influenced by Tricky Sam Nanton, just as Baars’s spidery clarinet relates back to Jimmy Hamilton and his testosterone-fuelled tenor saxophone to Ben Webster.

De Joode shines on “Kinda Bear (Jack the Bear)”, the original of which Ellington wrote for Jimmy Blanton. Of course in this POMO recreation, the tune starts off like a cabaletta, before becoming a showcase for de Joode’s slap bass and wavering sul ponticello techniques. Interestingly enough “Kinda Braud (Portrait of Wellman Braud)”, written for another Ellington bassist, is more concerned with Buis’s gritty tailgate trombone work and van Duynhoven’s back beat than the steel-fingered bassist’s skills.

On some pieces Baars’ wiggling coloratura clarinet timbres play off against broken octaves from the growling trombone; on others an adagio melody calls forth braying trombone slurs and tough pecks from the tenor man. Meantime “Kinda Lafitte (Aristocracy à la Jean Lafitte)” has unison polyphony from the horns that suggest the New York Art Quartet. With the drummer rat-tat-tatting behind, the tenor saxophone’s honks are answered by plunger slurs from the bone man.

“Kinda Solitude (Solitude)”, the lead off number, may be the most upsetting for traditionalists. Mirrored by bowed bass, the tenor saxophonist shrieks harsh tones with a vibrato wider than either Sidney Bechet’s or Albert Ayler’s before relenting and spitting out the familiar melody.

No composer in jazz – no matter how exalted – warrants the museum treatment. Kinda Dukish ensures this doesn’t happen to Duke Ellington.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Kinda Solitude 2. Kinda Lafitte 3. Kinda Bear 4. Kinda Caravan 5. Kinda Gentle 6. Kinda Half 7. Kinda Harlem 8. Kinda Braud 9. Kinda Prelude 10. Kinda Perdido

Personnel: Joost Buis (trombone); Ab Baars (clarinet and tenor saxophone); Wilbert de Joode (bass); Martin van Duynhoven (drums)