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Hef offers something truly special for fans of the nettlier side of modern jazz. Ab Baars and Terrie Ex, two stars of the Dutch underground, meet here for the kind of interplay that revives one's faith in free improvisation. Their natural yet sophisticated conversation makes this set work in an unusually fine fashion.
Certainly neither saxophonist/clarinetist Baars nor guitarist Ex believes in holding back. The opener, "Oud Over," makes this point abundantly clear with bright, searing attacks from both players. But rather than charging rampantly into the abyss, Ab & Terrie seem to have reached a sort of mutual understanding verging on detente. There are no rules here: each player remains free to offer whatever commentary he deems natural in the moment. At times (eg. "Kryzeltanden II") they reach points of outright confrontation, but then there are also sweet moments ("M. Ali I" and "II") where they seem to have jumped in bed together. Mostly it's a game of give and take, with enough of that Dutch sense of the absurd to keep things from getting pretentious. In this sense, Hef strongly resembles Ex's recent duet recording with Han Bennink, The Laughing Owl . Listening and responding play equally important roles as cleverness and idiosyncrasy. In the gap between these two axes lies the fertile ground Baars and Ex tread on Hef.
Most strikingly, much of the music on this disc has a potent vocal quality. Whether whispered or shouted, mumbled or declared, each note seems to represent a natural extension of the human voice. And that is the way in which this disc really breaks through. These are conversations, not shared monologues, and as such they reveal a great deal about both the personalities of these two players and the very open relationship they share.