None Given

Baars / Kneer / Elgart
Give No Quarter

A somewhat misleading title, this, for an album of improv that is blowsy and swaggering rather than confrontational and unforgiving. The record teams the Dutch/German duo of horn player Ab Baars and bassist Meinard Kneer with American drummer Bill Elgart for a playful and varied set ranging from full-on fire music to insectoid free improv.

Opener ‘Anacrusis’ sets the tone, with Meinrad Kneer’s rubbery, insouciant bass rubbing up against Ab Baars’ mewling sax. The title track, meanwhile, is a sharp elbowed assault, Kneer’s atonal sawed bass keeping the rackety structure from falling apart.

Elgart skates around these pieces elegantly, as befits a drummer with a venerable pedigree, having backed up such luminaries as Paul Bley and Lee Konitz. He matches flights of extrovert whimsy – as on ‘Specific Gravity’, where he whirls and flutters to match Baars’ stuttering horn curlicues – with beautiful restraint, of which his rustling brushwork on ‘Boreas’ is a fine example.

This is a great album if you like your improv loud and of the band-falling-down-the-stairs territory. There is just enough blues in Baars’ horn and Kneer’s bass lines to nod towards jazz, but it’s kept on a tight leash, as on ‘Song for Our Predecessors’, where the sax moos ruminatively as the bass scrapes and drums skitter.

‘Tale of the Bewildered Bee’ delivers a suitably apian treat, with both the fizzing reedy horn and bass mimicking the yellow and black buzzer of the title. ‘Complementary Progress’ hits a similar groove, the saxophone flightier here while Elgart’s drums work harder at nailing the whole thing down, clattering and banging in a mischievous grump. This is the highlight of the record for me, the trio locking into some kind of bizarre Tom & Jerry-style chase around the house, lurching and crashing into one another in good-natured competition, never quite managing to shut one another down.

That said, at certain points it all feels a mite comfortable. I get the feeling that the trio are well within their comfort zone here, and, for all Baars’ Ayler-style howls, there’s no angst to match the euphoria – in other words, not enough blues in them there blues. Yet, for all that, Give No Quarter is still an immensely enjoyable album, full of intriguing corners and the odd laugh out loud moment at this experienced trio’s brazen playfulness.