Most jazz musicians are content to express themselves within the confines of their solos, but the great Dutch reedist Ab Baars is just as interested in personalizing tunes by reworking their underlying structures. In 1999 he did it to the oeuvre of clarinetist John Carter (a onetime mentor), and 2001's Songs was a brilliantly conceived set built around Native American themes, mixing traditional chants and cheekily chosen standards like "Cherokee." Baars navigates trickier turf on last year's Kinda Dukish (Wig), radically revamping ten tunes from the Duke Ellington songbook--material that's inextricably linked to Ellington's original recordings and tailored to his group. The album's a stunning accomplishment that brings new perspectives to the songs and demonstrates their malleability--on "Kinda Solitude" Baars's astringent tenor sax refracts the gorgeous melody in surprising ways. Joined by his longtime rhythm section, bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven, as well as fat-toned trombonist Joost Buis, Baars displays a deep respect for "Caravan" and "Prelude to a Kiss" but doesn't bow down to them; on some pieces he plays cat and mouse with the themes, dancing in and out of recognizability, and on others he states them plainly only to pull them apart. Each player is a top-flight improviser as well, and their solos are a complementary mix of free-jazz abstraction and hard-swinging lyricism. Though Baars brings a heady rigor to his playing, he has no problem letting his heart speak too; in town a couple of weeks ago with the ICP Orchestra, he played a blues solo that had me thinking of Paul Gonsalves's immortal turn with Duke at Newport in 1956. The Kinda Dukish lineup will play at this show. Mon 4/17, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Francesca Patella.