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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fish-Scale Sunrise - No Queen Rises (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

“Melodious skeletons, for all of last night's music / Today is today and the dancing is done"

This short poem of Wallace Stevens, “A Fish-Scale Sunrise”, captures the spirit of Dutch reeds master Ab Baars' new trio. Baars titled his new trio after Stevens’ poem, and like the poem, it features some melodious skeletons, nocturnal themes and a few beautiful dances. Fish-Scale Sunrise began working in 2015 and is now releasing its debut album No Queen Rises, recorded in November 2017.

“Dew lies on the instruments of straw that you were playing, / The ruts in your empty road are red”

Fish-Scale sunrise signals for Baars a broadening spectrum of possibilities for compositions and improvisations. Baars wanted to explore new timbre, dynamics and sounds. He employs for the first time in his ensembles a pianist - Slovenian, Amsterdam-based pianist Kaja Draksler, who collaborated before with Baars in her Octet - introducing a new weight of nuances of timbre and dynamics as well as new harmonic horizons. Canadian, Stockholm-based double bass player Joe Williamson completes this drummer-less format and positions the bass with a unique role. Baars wrote seven compositions and the other two are free-improvisations

“You Jim and you Margaret and you singer of La Paloma, / he cocks are crowing and crowing loud”

These experienced musicians know how to weave a complex, captivating stories with few strokes of imaginative sounds, austere yet elegant, subtle but full of nuances. “Endless” visits Far-Eastern, terrains, flows in a balladic narrative and matures in a touching, playful dance of court and spark between Baars, playing the clarinet, and Draksler. “For Toby” suggests a complete different dialog between Baars and Draksler. He sings gently with his tenor sax while she pounds the piano keys in a hyper-dramatic manner while Williamson bowed bass stands in the middle. Baars and Draksler return to the minimalist dance mode on the lyrical, emotional “Now”.

“And although my mind perceives the force behind the moment, / The mind is smaller than the eye”

“Catch the Moon” is a joyful, melodious game between Draksler, Williamson and Baars, all chasing the reflection of the moon, mirrored in their playful, concise gestures. The trio paints the sparse, free-improvised “Receding Mountains” with gentle, subtle touches of rich colors, allowing this free-form texture to remain mysterious. The austere, minimalist atmosphere of the last pieces, “The First Sea” and “There” tells volumes despite its haiku-like profound restraint. No Queen Rises has powerful, suggestive impact. It challenges, teases, and occasionally comforts the listener, but always compensates with masterful performances and inspiring music.

“The sun rises green and blue in the fields and in the heavens. / The clouds foretell a swampy rain”.