Dutch reedist Ab Baars knows how to play the sly games that his country's senior jazzmen--especially Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink--have made a stock-in-trade. As a longtime member of Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra he's developed an instinctual ability to turn on a dime, and his occasionally comic decisions--like dropping a surprising snort or sourly intoned quote into one of his authoritative solos--are only made funnier by his sober demeanor. On his own, though, Baars opts for a more straightforward approach. It's often easy to hear how two of his avowed heroes have shaped him: his tenor saxophone has some of the biting sharpness of Von Freeman's, and the tightly controlled upper-register squeals in his masterful clarinet work betray the influence of John Carter. Baars has made a couple of solo recordings, but his long-running trio with bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven serves him best. The group's 2001 Songs (Geestgronden) is a fascinating homage to Native Americans that includes both an almost unrecognizable reinvention of the jazz standard "Cherokee" and dazzling interpretations of Hopi, Inuit, Navajo, and Cheyenne songs, among others. Lesser musicians tackling such a specific theme might've struggled to find breathing room or sunk into kitsch, but this distinctive trio can open up creatively in the narrowest of spaces. The rhythm section navigates Baars's arrangements with lighter-than-air alacrity, and when the two of them hit a wide-open stretch they can swing like crazy; de Joode's clean, woody tone and van Duynhoven's expressive brushwork expertly support Baars without getting in his way. The group celebrates its tenth anniversary this year with the live CD 10 Years Ab Baars Trio: Party at the Bimhuis (Wig). On this visit Baars will play two shows, one on Tuesday with his trio and a second on Wednesday with a Chicago-based lineup: drummer Robert Barry, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cornetist Josh Berman, and reedist Guillermo Gregorio. Tuesday, October 28, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Wednesday, October 29, 8 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.