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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ab Baars, Ig Henneman, Ingrid Laubrock, and Tom Rainey – Perch Hen Brock & Rain: Live @ the Jazz Happening Tampere (Relative Pitch, 2016) ****

By Troy Dostert

New York meets the Netherlands: Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey join forces with Ab Baars and Ig Henneman for five freely-improvised pieces from a live performance at the Tampere Jazz Happening in 2014.  Partners in life as well as in music, each couple has recorded extensively in a variety of contexts including relatively recent duo discs: see Laubrock and Rainey’s superb Buoyancy from last year, and Baars and Henneman’s excellent Autumn Songs from 2013. Despite this being their first recording as a unit, the group’s undeniable mutual energy and sympathetic camaraderie make this a very worthwhile listen.

Violist Henneman may be the least well-known of the four, but it’s clear from the opening of the record that her role is pivotal.  She dashes out of the gate on the first track, “Perch,” with a recurring figure that serves as a touchstone for the other musicians during the first half of the fourteen-minute piece, and her exuberant exchanges with Baars’s clarinet reflect their shared sensibility.  Henneman is capable of jagged, upper-register flurries (listen to her interplay with Laubrock toward the latter half of “Perch”), but she also presents an occasional lyrical side, which emerges as she helps guide the group into the track’s wistful closing segment, ended with a lovely coda by Laubrock and Baars.

Baars switches to the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute) for the second track, “Hen,” while Henneman supports him with subtle high-pitched flutterings and Laubrock joins in with atonal interjections of her own.  Although Rainey’s skilled drumwork eventually provides the driving force generating the cohesion of the piece about midway through, this track retains its feel as a mysterious, disorienting exploration.  As Baars switches to tenor on “Brock,” his spirited sparrings with Laubrock (also on tenor here) create some serious sparks, followed by an especially animated rhythmic underpinning from Rainey, by which point the group has really taken flight; then, abruptly, the piece shifts into a more ruminative mode, with Henneman leading the group into a more chamber-like segment, with both Baars and Laubrock offering low-register, sustained notes as the track comes to a close.  Another invigorating opening from Henneman kicks off “Rain,” with especially dexterous upper-register passages and percussive figures that are a highlight throughout the piece, particularly in shaping the episodic surges of intensity that give the track much of its power.  Laubrock’s contributions on both soprano and tenor here are also superb, and some of her finest moments on the record.  Although at only five minutes the album’s restrained closer, “Tampere,” is less substantial in length, it offers a fine conclusion to the record, as Rainey’s muted support sustains the close dialogue between the other three musicians via their slow, tempered meditations.

With creative range and first-rate musicianship in abundance, this one’s definitely a keeper.