Dutch tenor saxophonist/ clarinetist Ab Baars' "adaptations" of 10 Duke Ellington tunes render the source material almost unrecognizable, which ain't a bad thing, at least in this case--the more oblique the reference, the fresher the result. Baars tackles lesser-known Ellington compositions ("Portrait of Wellman Braud" and "Aristocracy a la Jean Lafitte" among them) and some chestnuts ("Solitude," "Caravan," "Perdido," "Prelude to a Kiss") with respect, not idolatry. His original take on Ellington makes most other dead-hero tributes seem downright plagiaristic.
Trombonist Joost Buis, bassist Wilbert de Joode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven aren't the most dynamic players--in this context, at least--but they get the job done, interpreting the leader's abstractions with skill and requisite precision. De Joode does an especially fine job, channeling Jimmy Blanton while bringing a wide range of modern techniques to the table. Baars is the most compelling soloist, combining gutbucket expressionism with just the right amount of boppish exactitude. There's a certain reserve to the music that perhaps reflects Baars' serious intent. The music is indeed less extroverted than I might have expected. In terms of content, however, there's plenty to sink your teeth into.