Ab Baars/Meinrad Kneer/Bill Elgart
Give No Quarter

(Evil Rabbit Records)

Let's start from the ending, for once: Give No Quarter is a very fine album. The featured music is intense, rich in imagination, masterfully performed, recorded with a skillful mix of "proximity" and "ambient" which makes for a rewarding listening experience where "warmth" never comes at the expense of the first ingredient for one's understanding of music: clarity.

The album was recorded by Sebastian Demydczuk, who also did the mix with Meinrad Kneer. Fine mastering job by Rob Elfrink. The sound - of music, also of individual instruments - is rich, never fatiguing, something which nowadays one cannot take for granted anymore even when it comes to albums like this. The fact of the end result being very coherent becomes even more remarkable when one considers that the recording sessions were limited to a single day.

Something quite unusual when it comes to this "genre", it sounds like a couple of tracks make use of overdubbing - at least, this is what they sound like to me (for track description, see below). Sixteen tracks for a duration of 63' tell of an editing work that avoids lengthy episodes. While the changing proportions of instruments and components - such as drums and cymbals - witness to a "teleological" mix.

What kind of music is this? Glad you asked. At the risk of oversimplifying something which is quite complex, I'd call this a successful mixture of "Free Jazz" and "Improvised Music". Of course, I'm quite aware of the risk of treating "things" that others would file under "attitudes" or "strategies", possessing a very high degree of categorial variability, as "tags". Well, what can I say? I try to do my best!

Ab Baars is definitely a musician who needs no introduction, his work in a variety of contexts - solo, duo with Ig Henneman, trio, quartet, medium-sized ensembles, various collaborations - being well-known. Though he has recorded quite a bit, double bass player Meinrad Kneer is still not too well-known - at least, this is what appears to me. I've written about him here, the most recent item being Windfall, the fine album he shared with Ab Baars.

Though I was sure I'd read his name once or twice, "Bill Elgart" didn't ring a bell - though I knew that the excellent musicality displayed on this album was the fruit of a long practice. So, what did I do? Well, I searched the Web, and... Voilą! A page on Wikipedia reads "US jazz drummer expatriate" and so on and so forth. Maybe I'm exaggerating the importance of his past collaborations, given the fact that they seem to confirm what I thought I heard, but names such as Paul Bley, Marion Brown, Sam Rivers, Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai - and, later, Karl Berger - speak for themselves.

In the past, while squinting my eyes, I appeared to see Albert Ayler standing behind Ab Baars on tenor. So it was with much surprise that on this album I seemed to detect traces of Ornette Coleman, given the fact that Coleman is always - whether implicitly, or explicitly - "Bluesy": something that I rarely perceive as being true of Ab Baars on clarinet, very seldom on tenor. After a long period of reflection - being a music critic is hard! - I think I've found my solution, the key being Kneer's arco bass work, which obviously shows a classical background, which on this album reminded me of David Izenzon's work on Ornette Coleman's At The Golden Circle, Vol. I and II. So what at first sounded to me as being akin to the Albert Ayler album In Greenwich Village - i.e., tenor and strings - in the end found a more appropriate frame of reference.

What follows is just a quick sketch of the music featured on the album. As it's to be expected, this music is not really simple, but it's not too difficult, either. No more, anyway, than those "Free" albums from the 60s that nowadays we regard as "classics". And as they (used to?) say, "No pain, no gain".

Anacrusis starts with a melodic phrase that travels from tenor to double bass, quite "deep" sounding. There's a "Coleman-like" mood, agile drums which make good use of bass drum, cymbals, snare drum with very resonant snare, brushes. There's a fine meditation on a tonal centre.

Eurus features clarinet, double bass played arco. Drums are played staccato. Unison passages which almost sound like they are scored. Fine opposition of "lyric-sounding" clarinet and double bass. Unison ending, with cymbals sounding like gongs, toms with resonating skins.

Give No Quarter sounds "Free", showcasing tenor, arco bass, and "free" drums. One is bound to be reminded of Albert Ayler's In Greenwich Village. Bass drum, snare, polyrhythms, double bass played arco, with fine harmonics. There's a fine cymbal figure, on a "false" ending.

Zephyrus features a very "airy-sounding" (of course!) shakuachi, paired with "heavy"-sounding percussion, with a measured double bass. There's a fine contrast of shakuachi's legato, percussion's staccato, double bass's slide.

Late Preamble has a chamber-like clarinet, which reminded me of Roscoe Mitchell, double bass played arco, agile cymbals and toms in the background. Brief, and very beautiful.

Song For Our Predecessors sounds a bit like The Art Ensemble Of Chicago. Fine snare drum, long, "held", notes on tenor, double bass played arco, and "motivic variations". A cymbal - it sounds like a "china crash" to me - brings the piece to its close.

Specific Gravity sounds quite ą la "Ayler/Free". The clarinet is played in the high register, a deep-sounding double bass acts "in opposition", agile drums as co-protagonist. Fine surprise ending from the drums.

Notus features shakuachi, double bass played arco - again, with fine use of harmonics - with the hi-hat in the foreground, acting as an anchor.

Logical Consistency features tenor and arco bass, it's a mid-tempo where what I first thought to be percussion later appeared as an overdubbing of double bass played arco, which strikes the strings very hard. Excellent cymbals, of various dimensions.

Tale Of The Bewildered Bee has the double bass acting like a "bee", with counterpoint of snare drum and cymbals. Notes played in the medium-high register, lotsa toms, "austere"-sounding melody from the tenor sax. Very "Ayler-like", in its way.

Complementary Progress features a fresh melodic dimension from two overdubbed clarinets. "Fat-sounding" double bass, toms, clarinets talking to each other, with a "bluesy" tinge. Fine!

Fundamental Ambush features a "bluesy-sounding" tenor, double bass played arco, acting as a pedal, agile drums. Here and there I seem to detect two double basses: ? Fine punctuation from the drums, echoing the tenor's gruppettoes - ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.

Boreas showcases a light-sounding snare played brushes, big bass drum, resonating toms, brushes, bright cymbals, all acting as a framework for the shakuachi, the double bass played arco acting as a pedal. There's a fine sound of brushes on the snare drum, a sound from the "swing" era which gets to be recontextualized. Bright shakuachi, fat double bass. Thin sound stripes, and a fine CD ending, which fades in, then out.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2013

CloudsandClocks.net | Dec. 8, 2013