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Ab Baars: Kinda Dukish

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.

Originally Published