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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ab Baars / Meinrad Kneer / Bill Elgart - Live at Konfrontationen Nickelsdorf 2012 (Evil Rabbit, 2018) ****

There is no better place to flesh out your most intense, risk-taking and adventurous improvisation skills than the free-improv haven of the Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria. Six years after performing there, the masterful set of Dutch reeds player Ab Baars, German double bass player Meinrad Kneer and veteran American, Germany-based drummer Bill Elgart is finally released, sounding fresh and invigorating as on the day it was performed.

This trio grew out of the Barrs-Kneer duo that began working in Amsterdam around 2008 and released the album Windfall (Evil Rabbit, 2010). It expanded into a trio after Elgart guested in the duo performance at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis club. This trio recorded its debut album, Give No Quarter (Evil Rabbit, 2013) in October 2011, nine months before its performance at the Konfrontationen festival in July 2012.

The performance at the Konfrontationen festival allowed this trio to stretch out the format of short pieces that appeared in the Baars-Kneer album or the trio studio album. The trio plays two extended “Nickelsdorf Suites” plus a short “Nickelsdorf Fantasia”, all emphasizes the physical and intense, confrontational element of such a truly spontaneous meeting. These distinct, resourceful improvisers know how to play - literally - with all aspects of free-improvisation, often simultaneously. The trio moves instantly and organically between sketching a loose structure and then, alone or together, deconstructs it; builds the tension and immediately releases it; stresses muscular attacks but also highlights a more subtle, fragile and sometimes even a lyrical vein; searches for surprising variations of timbres and new sounds - especially Baars who plays the tenor sax, clarinet and the Japanese shakuhachi flute - and always alternates between consensus, dissent and echo.

This trio has become a powerful lab for free-improvisation strategies. It refuses to settle in any strict form or dynamics, but attempts to invent and reinvent itself anew again and again while keeping a playful flow, despite its fast-shifting, confrontational approach. You need the support of an open audience as the one of the Konfrontationen festival to choose this kind of challenging approach.