Ab Baars Trio

WIRE, october 2001

Reedsman Ab Baars pays tribute to Native American culture, drawing
material from tribal sources and reworking Charles Ives's 'The Indians'
and Ray Noble's 'Cherokee' for good measure.

There's not a hint of banal mimicry in this highly disciplined music which
continually makes unexpected disclosures.

As an improviser, Baars respects the character of sounds, a close observer
of the texture and shape of individual notes.

Sublimating his understanding of 'Indian' ways, he pursues a series of
unfamiliar courses, chasing oblique tracks across jazz terrain, accompanied
by his precise and vigilant rhythm section, bassist Wilbert de Joode and
drummer Martin van Duynhoven.

Ab Baars Trio

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

[...] There are no bad compositions on the cd Songs; Maliseet Love Song and Aotzi No-otz are especially beautiful. [...] From extremely delicate to unusually heavy. [...] The Ab Baars Trio's sound and intensity recall the best of the legendary Albert Ayler Trio. Frans van Leeuwen (NRC, 31-8-2001)