December 21, 2015
Ab Baars Trio
NotTwo MW 914-2
Conceptually, improvised music is such an expensive field that its parameters are not so much elastic as permeable. Deftly balancing on double bass-and-drums’ Jazz-affiliation, like precious stones delicately mounted on a solid base are timbres from blockflutes and shakuhachi respectively on these innovative Euro-Improv discs. Each nonetheless substantiates a particular motion.
On Prophetic Fall for instance Warsaw-based Dominik Strycharski, who also works in theatre and with contemporary and electronic music, proffers eight compositions designed to carve out a role in modern improvised music for blockflutes and sopilka, which are types of recorders. Assisting him are drummer Paweł Szpura, who has played with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and flutist Nicole Mitchell among others; and bassist Ksawery Wójciński, who has been associated with reedists Charles Gayle and Wacław Zimpel.
Coming on like an Iron Man contestant compared to Strycharski’s fanciful long-distance bicycle racer, Amsterdam-based Ab Baars adds the distinctive intonation of shakuhachi or bamboo flute to some of the 10 tracks on Slate Blue, a silver anniversary keepsake for his all-Dutch trio. The group is filled out by bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven, who singly or together have backed a telephone-book’s list of improvised musicians. Baars, who like the American Ned Rothenberg, is bringing the ancient instrument into modern improv, counts shakuhachi as just one of his skills. Baars has other transformative skills. Like Jimmy Hamilton, his tenor saxophone playing is studded with harsh slurs, while his clarinet playing is understated and alive with sweet obbligatos. In fact “Karmozijn”, the shakuhachi feature is the most otherworldly or eastern-leaning track of the CD. Baars’ fripple-floating warp and woof propels delicate breaths as de Joode and Van Duynhoven string-slash and pop drum tops to add some needed contrast.
The other brief tracks – all composed by Baars – concentrate on the filial relationship the three men have developed over the years. For instance when Baars begins “Rode Wurger” with sour tones wrenched from his saxophone like a demented Albert Ayler, de Joode responds with power strums equally taut as the reed lines; while Van Duynhoven bangs his kit with the same ferocity. “Taan” meanwhile is memorable because over near-ceremonial drum patterns, Baars’ moderato clarinet flutters are contrasted with the bassist splintering harsh tones with a weight-lifter’s strength. Sometimes mordant humor comes close to the surface as well. On “Fanfare” for example, the drummer’s pseudo-martial rolls are followed first by reed timbres that are as snide and as they are sharp and equally bellicose slaps bass runs. Baars’ melancholy coda though may emphasize the losses that often ensue from militarism.
Comprehensively the tracks which best express the sterling jubilee qualities of Baars-de Joode- van Duynhoven are the consecutive “Water” and “Steen”. Effervescently sweeping through the first, the saxophonist outlines the parameters of bubbly, moderato swing, with occasional bugle-like blast to keep things exciting. “Steen” or “stone” in Dutch, which is more mystical than massive, features Baars’ contralto clarinet playing with delicate, neo-pastoralism as in a flute concerto. Europeanized, these high pitches contrast distinctively with the American Indian-like tom tom-like pumps and cymbal clatters from the drummer, with de Joode’s sly string buzzing a Métis-like link between the two POVs. If Slate Blue has any drawback it's that many of the tracks proffer statements that merely end, rather than coming to a satisfying musical conclusion.
There’s no mistaking Strycharski’s statement and conclusion. He’s out to carve out a role for recorders in improvised music, the way Yusef Lateef did for the oboe and Julius Watkins for the French horn. To that end, the distinctive clip-clop of Szpura’s drums and thrust of Wójeriński’s bass are little different than they would be backing a conventional reed instrument. Despite how powerfully strings are slapped or drum set top spanked the torque Strycharski corkscrews into the blockflute’s nearly opaque texture makes his discordant exposition personify a rampaging Visigoth confronting and besting bellicose tribesmen. A piece such as “So Nobody Will Come” confirms that he can graft tougher Rahsaan Roland Kirk-like tones onto the peeping sopilka if need be. Most notably sucking reverberations on that wooden instrument coupled with a meandering oud-like tone from Wójciński on “I Couldn’t Resist", creates a completely original interface that calls for further exploration.
Wójeriński’s string efficacy is highlighted with guitar-like picking on “Please Fix It”, as Szpura’s tambourine-like wallops provide the proper backing. With the two propelling lines that somehow combine Roma and Rock, Strycharski is encouraged to extract the sort of fluttering vibrations from his blockflute that traditional players couldn’t imagine. Rippling feather-light tones upwards and grizzly bear-like growls downwards, the “fix” is in how unlike other music this is, while still maintaining Jazz-like references.
With Slate Blue, the Baars trio has created a meaningful 25th anniversary present for all; while since there’s no fall off in quality playing throughout. Meanwhile Prophetic Fall is prophetic as an instrumental showcase.
Track Listing: Slate : 1. Hout 2. Oestermes 3. Water 4. Steen 5. Kauw 6. Karmozijn 7. Fanfare 8. Rode Wurger 9. Raaf 10. Taan
Personnel: Slate: Ab Baars (tenor saxophone, clarinet and shakuhachi); Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Martin van Duynhoven (drums)
Track Listing: Prophetic: 1. Exactly Confused 2. Because We Do 3. Kiss Me 4. Please Fix It 5. I Was Asking 6. So Nobody Will Come 7. I Couldn’t Resist 8. I Could
Personnel: Prophetic: Dominik Strycharski (blockflutes and sopilka); Ksawery Wójciński (bass) and Paweł Szpura (drums)