Ab Baars Trio and Ken Vandermark Hallwalls Gallery, Buffalo NY April 21

Ab Baars Trio and Ken Vandermark Hallwalls Gallery, Buffalo NY April 21
Saxophonist Ab Baars is a member of a wide-ranging and active group of Dutch improvisers that have captured the imagination of listeners throughout North America. His work in various ensembles including the amazing Instant Composer's Pool Orchestra showcases some of the best cutting edge improv created by the fusion of European art music and the African American tradition of jazz. The concert itself was held in Buffalo's Hallwall's Gallery; a performance space situated in an old church converted into an arts centre by the Righteous Babe herself, Ani DiFranco.

"Rather Scattered," a composition by Vandermark opened the set, which was followed by a group improvisation. This pair of vibrant, engaging pieces showcased each member of the ensemble in full flight. Bassist Wilbert de Joode's chord work and insistent lines defied the traditional roles the instrument has taken. At times, DeJoode strummed the bass like a flamenco guitar, using vibrato like a Kabuki string on Vandermark's "Losing Ground" and on the introduction to Baars' "Von," where his bowing sang like a Hendrix feedback dream.

Martin Duynhoven's drums clattered and thrust into the tunes, probing and pushing the horns in tandem with the bass, yet never losing the sense of pulse that propelled the music forward. The horns themselves delved fully into the varied colours offered by the compositions. The tribute to John Gilmore entitled "Honest John" started with duo low end tenor honks that really did bring to mind the late Sun Ra alumni while the a cappella duo featuring Vandermark on clarinet and Baars on shakuhachi provided an oasis of contemplation amidst the flurry of sound that preceded it.

Vandermark's energy really cut loose on his solo in "Von," another tribute piece by Baars that was dedicated to Chicago tenor Von Freeman. He seemed to really lock into the material and the solo danced and feinted, shadowboxing the rhythm section. Ab Baars' work on tenor and clarinet was really something to behold. Each piece showcased his singular approach to both composition and improvisation, but more particularly his sense of phrasing. While almost studious in execution, his phrasing nevertheless set the bass and drums into frames that surprised and satisfied.

The last piece, "Prince of Venosa," featured a clarinet duo that shredded the air and ears with high pitched keening, creating a third voice that howled in one's head. An appropriate setting for a period piece titled after 16th century composer Carlo Gesualdo who murdered his wife and her lover in spectacular fashion.