Ab Baars

February 23, 2004

Party at the Bimhuis
Wig 09

Statements en Mexico
Encuentro Internacional de Improvisación
Jazzorca Records 014

Gatherings of old friends and new acquaintances, parties, if organized properly, can sometimes result in unique insights along with the good times. So it is with these two discs. Recorded live in an Amsterdam club last year, Party at the Bimhuis is the long overdue celebration of the 10 — well, really 11½ — year anniversary of reedist Ab Baars’ trio with bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven. Befitting a milestone, the three invited a group of associates to help them celebrate, and the assembled partygoers played in various combinations ranging from duo to septet.

A more formal affair, the other CD, subtitled First International Encounter of Free Improvisers grew out of a series of five concerts and a workshop in Mexico City in 2000. The idea was to create mix and match ensembles from among the capital’s most experimental free jazzers and pure improvisers — yes they exist there too. The “international” categorization came about when the locals were joined on some tunes by the German-born, New York-based Statements duo — Hans Tammen on so-called endangered guitar and Ursel Schlicht on piano.

Baars, whose power and versatile improvising has also earned him a longtime berth in the ICP Orchestra, plays host to his boss, iconoclastic pianist Misha Mengelberg on a few tracks. Most revealing is a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections” featuring the pianist and Baars’s trio. While Mengelberg’s jagged attack almost literally sounds like Monk — complete with the stride piano inferences, Baars’s tenor work goes beyond that of Charlie Rouse’s the American pianist’s most constant reed foil. Although he lags behind the beat when soloing, his vibrato is shakier (on purpose) and wider than Rouse’s ever was, and unlike the American, he’s more abstract. He seems to be on the cusp of letting go each time he improvises a new phrase.

“GF”, another tenor feature, based incongruously on the opening of Beethoven’s Great Fugue for string quartet, shows off Baars’s growling honks and slightly tart delivery as he pokes into every nuance of the tune. De Joode starts the piece off with a furious, focused bass slap, then turns to standard time, while van Duynhoven varies his accompaniment from military pacing to a steady pulse.

Tart delivery also characterizes the work of Chicago tenorist Von Freeman, who gets the septet treatment on “Von”, written by Baars in his honor. Here van Duynhoven’s expansive drum solo filled with rolling paradiddles and ruffs points out that while he’s been recording in avant-garde circumstances since 1968, the drummer is easily able to work out in standard jazz time. Unison sax lines from Baars and early associate Mariëtte Rouppe van der Voort on alto saxophone — she plays piccolo and flute elsewhere — are actually a little farther out than Freeman’s blunt tempo when he digs into a tune. Interestingly as well, van der Voort touches the heart of improvisation in her solo, though her commitment to Chicago and Freeman isn’t as pronounced as Baars’s wavering growls. Violist Ig Henneman, the tenor man’s longtime partner, creates a circular and non-sentimental lines here to maintain the mood.

Known as much for his clarinet as his sax playing, Baars shows it off on “3900 Carol Court”, named for the home address of another mentor, the late Los Angeles-based reedman John Carter. Starting a cappella, his output highlights his control of the instrument that with equal facility can swoop from squeaking treetop notes in the coloratura register to woody chalumeau lines.

“Indiaan” (sic), another clarinet piece, features its composer, and an early employer of Baars, pianist Guus Janssen. Janssen, who shares a fascination with Native-American themes with the reedist, manages to burlesque Hollywood Indian music cliches with his left hand while improvising a new line on top of them with his right. Baars sounds out a mellow counter melody, while the rhythm section creates a polyrhythmic Pow Wow timbre, which the drummer begins with distinctive wooden percussion sounds.

A septet piece featuring Baars on clarinet and Rouppe van der Voort on bass flute reveals its dedicatee easily enough, since Baars, the composer, entitled it “A Portrait of Roswell Rudd”. Strangely enough though, the legato, adagio theme based around a subtle drumbeat and slithering viola line featuring no brass instruments. Instead, to the accompaniment of some miasmic Gil Evans-like chords from the horns and viola, the two pianists scoot and slither over the keyboards, with Janssen probably playing it more straight and stately and Mengelberg likely more skittering and spiky.

With 14 tracks packed into more than 73 minutes, the Free Improvisers party down Mexico way also allows every musician to participating in some way. Although like Baars’s session a brass free zone — except for the odd interjection from the trumpet of organizer German Bringàs, who more often plays soprano or tenor saxophone — a plethora of other instruments make their appearance.

Most free jazzy of the tracks is “Riesgo 13”, also the longest at more than 12 minutes. With the overblowing and multiphonics of Bringàs on tenor saxophone, Raúl Aranda on alto saxophone and Remi Álvarez on baritone saxophone — not to mention the triple basses of Aron Cruz, Roberto Aymez and Miguel Rodriguez — what results is Ascension-Machine GunUN textures.

Starting off with what sounds like the ringing of an alarm clock bell, rolling percussion from Hernán Hetch continues throughout, with Bringàs’ reed smears and snorts making the first impression. Soon high-intensity Cecil Taylor-like pianisms from Schlicht are vying for sonic space with bass guitar thumb taps and Alejandro Sánchez’s wiggling, Billy Bang-type fiddle scratches. Pulsating unison tones, high-pitched violin glissandos and a pumping pedal-point bottom from Álvarez’s baritone bring the piece to a crescendo.

Mostly different personnel in another tentet make the final, barely four minute track another screaming free-for-all, although the distorted guitar picking from Tammen, Carlos Castillo and Salvador Cruz create a different texture and bring up memories of one of those Eugene Chadbourne-led electric avant-folk blow outs. More importantly, the unjustly unknown-north-of-the-Rio-Grande Mexicans acquit themselves admirably in small groupings as well. “Riesgo 4”, for instance, finds the pianist playing cross handed tremolos and chords met by a continuous glissando from alto clarinetist Marcos Miranda. Meanwhile Walter Schmidt on bass guitar and Cruz scratch away with a combination of bottleneck slides and what sounds like the pressing heavy objects on the strings. A quartet of the Statements duo, Bringàs on soprano sax and drummer Carlos Bonequi finds the four in EuroImprov territory on “Riesgo 10” with the tune based around short, left-handed fantasias from the pianist, splayed distorted fingering from the guitarist and stroked percussion lines. Meanwhile the reedist interrupts with flutter tonguing and irregular vibrations, then with quacking and honking that get more repetitive, but mellifluous at the same time. Finally Bringàs evokes closure with dog whistle squeals.

Featuring just Tammen, Aranda and Álvarez, “Riesgo 1” finds the guitarist supplying the continuum with electronic buzzes and e-bow torquing, while the reedists produce droning, over-miked curls that move from tongue slaps to alp horn yodels. “Riesgo 12” with Bringàs and Miranda joining the guitarist finds the German-American exploring the sound field available from his axe neck and behind the bridge until he creates buzzing, shorting and modulating feedback tones. One reedman plays straight lines, while the other overblows so much so that at points a dense bagpipe timbre is created and at others shrill, but melodic tones echo back and forth from one to the other.

In a more modern vein, Mario de Vega’s sampler faces off against Tammen’s electro-impulses on “Riesgo 7” to create tones that appear to be a combination of Star Wars and seashore explorations. Between the growls, sine wave movements and electronically tinged static, the plectrumist uses quick, pinprick flat-picking to make space for himself among video game noises that crash, bang and aurally explode.

More universal than Mexican, the only geographical musical references appears on “Riesgo 5”, which adds Schlicht and Francisco Bringàs on tabla to the guitar/sampler duo. Here what appears to be pealed bells, scraped guitar strings and powerful piano pressure syncopate forward in ringing octaves to makes short work of some sampled, whiny Tejano tunes.

STATEMENTS also features memorable clavichord-like dampened action solos from the pianist and industrial strength responses from the guitarist in duo. Besides being a disc which features two musicians who record too infrequently, singly or together, the main reason to investigate this session is to familiarize yourself with the flourishing talents of some Mexican improvisers.

Baars’s party disc is yet another confirmation that cosmopolitan improvisers are numerous on the Continent — as most people now know. The other CD shows that first-class thinkers and players don’t stop at the United States’ southern border.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Party: 1. 3900 Carol Court 2. GF 3. Indiaan+ 4. Party Talk#*^ 1 5. A Portrait of Roswell Rudd#*+^ 6. Party Talk 2# 7. Von#*+^ 8. Party Talk#+ 3 9. Whispers of Horsemeat# 10. Reflections^ 11. Enter from the East#*+^

Personnel: Party: Mariëtte Rouppe van der Voort #(alto saxophone, piccolo and flute); Ab Baars ([all tracks but 4 and 8] clarinet and tenor saxophone); Ig Henneman* (viola); Guus Janssen+ (piano); Misha Mengelberg^ (piano); Wilbert de Joode ([all tracks but 4 and 6] bass); Martin van Duynhoven ([all tracks but 4, 6, 8, 9] drums)

Track Listing: Statements: 1. Riesgo 1^& 2. Riesgo 2*+ 3. Riesgo 3~ 4. Riesgo 4* 5. Riesgo 5*@ 6. Riesgo 6+^& 7. Riesgo 7@ 8. Riesgo 8*^~ 9. Riesgo 9* 10. Riesgo 10*+ 11. Riesgo 11@ 12. Riesgo 12+ 13. Riesgo 13*+^&~ 14. Riesgo 14*+@

Personnel: Statements: Marcos Miranda (clarinet, soprano saxophone [tracks 12, 14]); German Bringàs (soprano and tenor saxophones, trumpet) +; Raúl Aranda (alto saxophone)&; Remi Álvarez (baritone saxophone)^; Alejandro Sánchez (violin)~; Salvador Cruz (acoustic guitar [tracks 4, 14]); Carlos Castillo (electric guitar [tracks 11, 14]); Hans Tammen (endangered guitar[all tracks but 4, 6, 8]); Ursel Schlicht* (piano) Walter Schmidt (bass guitar [track 4]); Arón Cruz [tracks 6, 13], Roberto Aymez [tracks 2, 6, 13], Miguel Rodriguez [tracks 8, 13](bass); Carlos Bonequi [track 14], Hernán Hetch [tracks 2, 3, 13] (drums); Francisco Bringàs ([tracks 5, 11, 14] tabla); Mario de Vega (sampler)