Ab Baars + Terrie Ex
Imagine meeting your demise by being completely crushed under thousands upon thousands of free improv records. One recording after another of delicately lathed, lacquered, and live music redolent of ten or twenty New York lofts in the 1970s. Consider that a large ratio of the avalanche will be those carefully pressed examples of the classic free improv duet; the sound of two people and their unique approaches to their instruments, an audience of maybe ten people, and a vaguely transcendental goal. John Corbett didn’t suffocate under those thousands and thousands of records, but maybe with the cooperation of the Atavistic record label, he can safely make sure that we do.
The new release, Hef, recorded by the Carson Daly-lauded, immortal Ab Baars and the youthfully exuberant and no less world-famous Terrie Ex, is complimented (complicated?) with Corbett’s trademarked brand of music journalism. Whether or not you accept this release as the landmark release of “drunken mastery” Corbett describes it as, I think we can all be in agreement that the album is a bit over forty minutes long. All of the other fine points are in the air.
Hef definitely runs a gamut of gauntlets, the two players interact on a genuinely kinetic level that safely delivers them through violent downpour and more amazingly, moments of true delicacy. The music is very satisfying. Baars’ playing has a perfect air of melancholy, managing to infuse melody into a often anarchic musical genre. Ex’s playing, on the other hand, is fairly consistent in operating as a foil to those sad clarinet phrases belted out by Baars. At their best, the reach a perfect balance of sullen contemplation and pissed-off-I-am-going-to-just-kick-my-instrument-down-the-stairs frenzy. The violence isn’t anything spectacular on its own, and it reaches for an intense peak that the two can’t often pull off in their tiny allotted time spans (most of the pieces are under four minutes, which is definitely a positive thing compared to some of the improvisers out there).
When Terrie and Ab give themselves some breathing room, on the final and title track of the album, it’s very much welcome and serves as a perfect summation of their interplay. Go out of your way to hear this release. You might regret it, but I won’t feel guilty for recommending it.