Ab Baars/Meinrad Kneer

(Evil Rabbit Records)

An album such as Windfall can be defined as being a good specimen of a successful "modern" way to conceive improvisation: one where fine stylistic variety; highly-skilled, complex performing techniques; and a strong connection between the players which practically eliminates all traces of hesitation in a musical development that's for the most part "intuitively" performed "in the moment", all originate something that can be easily defined as being "teleologically coherent". Where the final result - keeping in mind the "normal" degree of difficulty when it comes to appreciating stuff like this - can be filed under the "it could be appreciated even by an average listener; provided, that is, s/he's of the attentive/lover of the not-showy kind of surprises variety".

I think it can be said that Ab Baars is still the famous musician of the duo, even if I suspect this to be largely due more to his having been for a long time a member of the glorious Dutch collective going under the name Instant Composers Pool Orchestra than to the various line-ups of which he is a mature protagonist. The fine saxophone and clarinet player is heard here in the company of bass player Meinrad Kneer, a skillful musician with a diverse background (something which is nowadays quite normal) whom I've had the pleasure to hear in various occasions, often alongside the (prepared) piano of Albert van Veenendaal, who here acts as recording engineer. Let's not forget that on this album Baars adds shakuachi and noh-kan - the short, wooden Japanese flute he also used in Stof, the fine album he shared a few years ago with excellent viola player Ig Henneman - to his usual tenor and clarinet.

Mixing and mastering are by Micha de Kanter. I have to say that I found the stereo balance of this album to be far from ideal (which could be considered as being my personal opinion, but an opinion which has merit, I think), which proved to be an obstacle to my appreciating the music on this album. As it's widely known, Ab Baars is a musician that can really "project", so when it comes to balance the double bass here is in a position of disadvantage. But since the relationship of counterpoint between the instruments here is miles beyond what can usually be found in what we usually call "classic" jazz, the album remained somewhat opaque to me till I decided to turn the "balance" knob on my amplifier about 15% to the right, which immediately made the music sound intelligible to me.

Eleven tracks for about 46', the work is quite "dry" (the editing work I seemed to detect here and there is obviously part of the whole), the final result being quite austere. Not "difficult", mind you, but listeners will have to play their part.

Jazz by now being no more than an echo, "ethnic" traces can be spotted here, though not necessarily where one would expect them to. The sound of the wind instruments is beautiful and clear (at times hyper-realistic), while the double bass sounds like it's been recorded through multiple mics: notes are clear, one can also hear the harmonics a few feet off the instrument, and also the percussive performance on the fretboard, whenever appropriate.

The Staircase Incident opens with tenor, the double bass performing a descending phrase; a "swing" mood reminded me of some beautiful pages in the Anthony Braxton/Dave Holland book. Ant Logics features the clarinet, with the double bass, at times sounding quite chamber-like, played arco. Windfall has the shakuhachi, the double bass playing harmonics. Wood-Wind features a tenor sax that's almost "cool", while the percussive work on the bass fretboard makes the instrument sound like tablas: it's one of the most original, and successful, episodes of the album. Long Way Home has tenor, hushed tones, the double bass (which at times reminded me of bagpipes) producing harmonics. Bird Talk, featuring the noh-kan, sounds somewhat "ethnic" - while at the same time reminding listeners of Bird Calls by Charles Mingus?

Insinuated Instability has the clarinet again, the double bass going smoothly from "ethnic" moods, with "crackling", percussive, sounds, to more "jazzy" tones. The Pledge has a concentrated development, with just a few notes, the tenor resembling some reed instrument from North Africa and Albert Ayler at the same time, the double bass performing a chamber-like ostinato played arco; there's a fine, eloquent phrase played by tenor at the end of the piece. Almost an "eastern minuet", Eastern Rudiment features shakuhachi and double bass played arco. Into Philosophy and Target Practice are two items cut from the same cloth, featuring tenor and double bass.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2010

CloudsandClocks.net | Mar. 4, 2010