Honest John & Ab Baars “Treem” Live at Konfrontationen Nickelsdorf 2012
Best known for his long-time membership in the OICP Orchestra and leading his own trio, Amsterdam reedist Ab Baars also adapts his skills to other aggregations for greater or lesser periods. Recorded four years apart, these CDs capture two of those associations. Live at Konfrontationen Nickelsdorf 2012 features Baars in a trio which had quite a few gigs in those days, a co-op with German bassist Meinrad Kneer and long-time American-in-Europe expatriate drummer Bill Elgart. Given special guest star billing, Treem meanwhile finds Baars’ tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet and shakuhachi providing additional sonic colors to a program featuring the young Norwegian quintet Honest John.
For those used to Baars’ gentlemanly Ellington-affected playing and composing the first sound heard on “Nickelsdorf Suite #1 part I” may shock. Here’s the Dutchman skronking harsh Aylerian smears from his saxophone. At the same time though Baars’ altissimo screams and tonal exaggerations slide securely in place besides the weightlifter-like string pulls that Kneer resonates to solidify the rhythm and Elgart’s elegant pings and ruffs which moderate the output. This seeming contrast between high and low-pitched vibrations; lusty and mild sounds defines the tripartite interaction throughout, with a climax reached on “Nickelsdorf Suite #1 part III” as clean moderated clarinet lines replace broken split tones to burnish deepened double bass thumps and descriptive drum paradiddles and pops. “Nickelsdorf Fantasia”, the shakuhachi-featured final track, which also includes frame-drum-like resonation from Elgart and erhu-like strokes from Kneer, also turns out to be an amorphous gagaku music-like coda, wrapping up the preceding tonal multiplicity. The two-part “Nickelsdorf Suite #2” which precedes that track further animated the trio’s program, building an ambling narrative out of gong-like shatters and finger-cymbal tings from Elgart; broken tones and motionless air sourced from deep inside both of Baars’ reeds’ body tubes; and defining string strokes and sweeps from Kneer.
Although his reed arsenal is on hand throughout Treem, Baars doesn’t have to stretch his timbres over such extensive sonic geography on the other CD, since he’s playing alongside alto saxophonist/clarinetist Klaus Ellerhusen Holm, violinist Ole-Henrik Moe, guitarist/banjoist Kim Johannesen, bassist Ola Hoyer and drummer Erik Nylander. Unfortunately this also leads to the CD’s lengthiest misstep. “One Thing after the other” devotes more than 14 minutes to sequential solos by each of the participants. This showcase may have worked in a live situation, but no matter how virtuosic each one’s skills, the result is merely like comparing various makes of cars as they dive past.
Luckily the music on the rest of the date is on a higher plane. The title track for instance melds the band textures to such an extent that they sympathetically pulsate like a giant accordion, but are saved from rusticity by drum machine clip-clops. Eventually the piece opens up as shaped reed slurs, stirring fiddle sweeps and guitar licks challenge the rest of the band. On this and other tunes, Trondheim-based Holm who also plays in Paal Nilssen-Love’s large Unite and Ballrogg, shows an ability to meld seemingly opposing timbral factions in his composing and playing, That includes finding a place for Johannesen’s guitar-banjo to clang distinctively whether matched with delicate strings or reed shrills. “Aristocrats”, Holm’s other major contribution, begins with a string-ricocheting preamble, ends with a smoothed tutti and in the middle promotes a theme that’s both bouncy and squirming, Picking up on this, the concluding “Prince of Venosa”, composed by Baars, saunters along via clarinet stutters and drum rumbles only to reach a harmonized crescendo, then after a 20-seond pause concludes by synthesizing the other strings and horns into a collaborative finale.
Both these groups function on a high level, with Baars’ designated talents contribute to these elevations.
JAZZWORLD, KEN WAXMAN
NOVEMBER 11, 2018