“Painting is a way of living, that is where the form of it lies.”
– Willem de Kooning
“What Abstract Art Means to Me,” Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, XVIII, No. 3 (Spring 1951).†
Europe with the Ab Baars Trio (12/24/07)
A thousand years and tens of thousands of kilometers ago, I arrived in Amsterdam to begin work on a quartet project with Ab Baars and his trio that includes Wilbert De Joode and Martin van Duynhoven. Things began simply enough on the 23rd of September: a short flight to Amsterdam after no sleep in Oslo (thanks to the assistance of Paal Nilssen-Love), some loose discussions with Ab and Ig Henneman about tour plans over dinner, and a trip to one of the best bars on the planet: Krom (Duvel served in frozen glasses, bartenders who whistle along with Thelonious Monk 45s played on an old jukebox…).
Rehearsals started the next day in a studio around the corner from Ab’s place. It was great to see Wilbert again and to really get to meet Martin for the first time. I’ve been interested in this trio for years, and have bought all of their albums and have heard them in concert whenever possible. (In the autumn of 2002 I listened to them while behind stage, lying on my back and exhausted, as they played an incredible set of John Carter compositions. It was the inspiration I needed before walking on after them to perform with the Territory Band at the Berlin Jazz Festival, the year it when it was superbly organized by John Corbett).
Ab is writing some of the best original music happening right now, and getting this chance to work directly with his music and the group has been something I’ve been hoping to do for a long time. Many years ago, I first played with Ab in a quartet with Han Bennink and Hamid Drake at the Empty Bottle. (Our presence on stage was somewhat pointless. Han and Hamid were having such a good time working together that their creative volume and density pushed Ab to my side of the stage where we both sat down and became part of the audience, spellbound.) I brought up the idea of collaborating together on a project after we left the stage. He looked at me and nodded his head slowly, which I took to mean that he thought that this was a good idea. When we next saw each other, about a year later, I mentioned the idea of the project again, and again Ab gave me the slow nod. Another year went by and we bumped into each other: “Hey Ab, how about-” slow nod. So I gave up, figuring that he was being nice and polite, and really had no interest in working on such a project. Then, about a year ago, Ab said to me, “Perhaps we should do something.” I paused with the intention of trying to give him a slow nod, but instead immediately said- “Yes!”
The collaboration began with three days of long rehearsals. Ab brought in eight new or entirely re-worked pieces (“Von [a portrait of Von Freeman],” “Munmyo,” “Then He Whirled About,” “Straws [a portrait of Igor Stravinsky],” “Return,” “”A Portrait Of ‘Honest John’ [for John Gilmore],” “Goofy June-Bug Forgotten Poet Morning Stomp [title taken from a poem by Philip Whalen]” and one unnamed composition); I submitted four new selections for approval (“Losing Ground,” “Rather Scattered,” “Waltz Four Monk,” and “Memory Moves Forward”). Each of the twelve compositions was radically different from all the others; after the first day of work it felt like we had a hundred tunes to learn. Quickly, however, the material came together and by the end of the third day we were in good shape to start the concerts. I really like the rehearsal process, and Ab is a very good leader, always making sure things are clear and developing in the right way. Throughout the tour the group would discuss the music and make improvements to arrangements and interpretations every night, we were always trying to make the material grow. In the evening of those first days Ab would have me come up to his apartment- which was filled with artist monographs, books of poetry, Jazz albums and cds- to run the themes and improve our phrasing, to ask questions or make comments about how to interpret the material. The work was always about music and fantastic.
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