Thursday, February 25, 2021
Let's be clear from the start. There's nothing "plain" about the new recording by Simon Nabatov, if by plain you mean "not attractive" or "undistinguished". Nabatov clarifies: "in Plain I was consciously looking for that minimum of compositional conditions which would provide an interesting work frame. I mean "plain" as in simple, understandable, approachable - not as primitive or boring, and hoped to walk this thin dividing line (hopefully on the right side)." Be assured he has succeeded magnificently. Unsurprising really when you consider his background. Since leaving the Soviet Union in 1979 aged 20, Nabatov has brought a breathtaking finesse to a staggering range of styles, equally at home in modern jazz, free improvisation, the canons of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, and Brazilian music, as well as his own works which defy easy classification.
Plain is the second in an ongoing series of recordings (after 2019's excellent Last Minute Theory) in which Nabatov reconnects with the NYC scene after some 30 years, enthused by the increasing profile there for challenging music. He's recruited some of the city's finest talents for this session. Having worked twice with Chris Speed in the past he knew he wanted the reedman on board. "I’ve been a big fan for a long time. Love his clarinet sound, love this instrument." And of course it recalls Nabatov's first significant gig with the late clarinetist Perry Robinson. Alongside him is trumpeter Herb Robertson, a consummate player who's made a career out of avoiding the obvious, who appeared on Nabatov's The Master And Margarita (Leo, 2001).
"He is definitely one of the unsung heroes of this music." Anchoring the band is the formidable tandem of Tom Rainey and John Hébert, a staple from the bands of Kris Davis and Ingrid Laubrock. While Nabatov's alliance with Rainey is longstanding, he's never performed with Hébert before. That fits the template: "The idea is to have on board at least one or two I never played with, but enjoyed their musicianship for some time."
That push-pull between familiarity and the unknown finds its echo in the material which mixes mood-morphing pieces with others where a narrative is more easily discerned. But whatever the conception, the outcome is thrilling. The mutable title track begins with a coolly elegant duet between Nabatov and Speed, on that clarinet, before becoming by turns portentous, rhapsodic, choppy and sparkling. Like all the charts here it contains more than enough leeway for the starry cast to lean into, and their sensitivity, commitment and exceptional prowess prove a continual pleasure as they ease gracefully between unfettered expression and precise notation.
Each number is its own world, often embracing similar juxtapositions. That's evident on "Copy That" where the tightly coiled theme is set amid lightly plotted interplay which includes a bristling tenor/trumpet exchange, and on "Cry From Hell" where the jaunty melody is bookended by inspired ensemble give and take. If you detect a Brazilian flavour here you would not be wrong. Nabatov is a mad keen fan of the country's popular music, and visits regularly. "The core tune is written in the genre "Choro" - a very popular instrumental genre born in Rio de Janeiro in the 1870s. The Portuguese word "choro" means a cry. And since it’s not exactly a clean authentic reading of the music - why not a somewhat ironic title?"
"Rambling On", the only improv on the date, envelops a text by Robertson, delivered through a bullhorn. "I felt its harsh nature would be a good contrast to the rest of the program. It has the compelling nature of a passionate (political?) statement, reflecting something of the zeitgeist of today." Nabatov rounds off the album with an urbane rendition of Herbie Nichols' "House Party Starting". As he explains, "It displays my take on "plain" perfectly - no hip arrangement, an unadorned, soothing conclusion."
What better way to finish. John Sharpe
1. Plain 12:00
2. Copy That 08:38
3. Cry From Hell 06:50
4. Break 07:42
5. Ramblin' On 03:03
6. Slow Thinker 10:29
7. House Party Starting 07:30
Chris Speed - tenor saxophone, clarinet
Herb Robertson - trumpet, cornet, voice
Simon Nabatov - piano
John Hébert - bass
Tom Rainey - drums
all music by Simon Nabatov (GEMA)
except track 5 (collective improv on the text of Herb Robertson)
and track 7 by Herbie Nichols
recorded June 1 2019 at the Trading8s Studio, New Jersey
recorded by Christopher Sulit, mixed and mastered by Stefan Deistler
Simon Nabatov spent the better part of the 1980s in New York City, finishing his studies while simultaneously working as a freelance musician primarily in jazz as well as wherever else his versatility would take him. It was certainly quite an adventure for a recent émigré from the Soviet Union. Following this fertile period in New York, he began a new chapter in his musical path with a move to Cologne, Germany in 1989 where he remains to this day. Many well-documented projects and collaborations unfolded since that move, often (but not only) with musicians based in Europe.
In September of 2018 Nabatov, after many years of exploring predominantly free improvised music, went to New York City with a desire to explore a more traditional jazz setting with a hand-picked group of master musicians; colleagues with whom he shares musical sensibilities and tastes. Some of them he has known for a long time, but never played a note together before, like saxophonist Tony Malaby, with some of them he already shared the stage on a number of occasions, like the drummer Gerald Cleaver. Completing this formidable band is guitarist Brandon Seabrook, and bassist Michael Formanek. It can be easily said of all four musicians that they participate for many years now in writing the history of jazz from the New York perspective.
The album opens with the nostalgic stroll „Old Fashioned“. The band gets right away into a leisurely stride, with a few odd bars in the tune to assure a slight stumbling effect along the way. The overall modus operandi is hinted at, with Malaby’s robust melodic voice propelling the story, Seabrook’s unique method of blending seemingly incongruous elements into one marvel, and the rhythm section providing a solid and supple feel.
„Slow Move“ appears to suspend the time, with an austere atmosphere driven by spiky chords. The piece travels through a series of mysterious episodes, Malaby’s soaring soprano sax is well-matched with Seabrook’s breath-of-dragon effects – before returning briefly to the initial material.
„Rickety“ starts as a relatively sparse and light premise, but promptly develops into a rambunctious all-in collective dance, groovy and ecstatic, with twirling lines atop charged by Montuno-like piano figures.
Nabatov admits that the political moods in his former residence made their way into his mind, hence the „Marching Right Along“, a piece reflecting the resolve of people who raise their voices for the common good. Gerald Cleaver invites us into this feeling with his succinct introduction.
„Translated“ evokes the dreamy feel of the musical worlds of the great late drummer Paul Motian, with whom Nabatov recorded the „Circle The Line“ album back in 1985. Tony Malaby, a veteran of Motian’s band, brings that authentic experience to this flowing ballad.
Piano is featured in the first part of „Good Pedigree“, initially as a duo with bass, later joined by drums. The rest of the band eventually joins for a stretch of joyous interjections, before a calming glide towards a full stop.
The closing piece, „Afterwards“, starts with an intense collective improvisation, full of energy and exuberance, followed by Michael Formanek’s melodic and pensive solo.
The tune and the whole album come to a conclusion with Brandon Seabrook’s quirky solo over the repeated peaceful song-like phrases.
„Last Minute Theory“ offers a collection of original works celebrating the city that remains Simon Nabatov’s other musical home. Combining a straight-forward approach with intricate details, both joyful and melancholic, this album brings Nabatov’s diverse musical abilities into a new light offering a new perspective to this remarkable and prolific musician.
1. Old Fashioned 08:33
2. Slow Move 07:46
3. Rickety 05:38
4. Marching Right Along 05:59
5. Translated 07:12
6. Good Pedigree 08:03
7. Afterwards 07:44
Tony Malaby - tenor and soprano saxophones
Brandon Seabrook - guitar
Simon Nabatov - piano
Michael Formanek - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
all music by Simon Nabatov (GEMA)
recorded September 29 2019 by Nolan Thies
at the Bunker Studio, Brooklyn NY
mixed and mastered by Srefan Deistler
Brandon Seabrook and Simon Nabatov meet in the imaginary garden of sensual pleasures of music-making. With a sheer joy of the shared sensibilities, they traverse diverse landscapes, opulent and glowing, or brooding and suspenseful at times. Both are capable of quirky actions, often offset by the equally unexpected lyricism.
The exchange of scratchy stabs, melodic runs, entangled textures, luscious chords, dramatic outbursts or whispers of angelic voices - all of the elements find their place in the flowing yet coherent story-telling of this fabulous duo.
1. Daggers 05:15
2. Who Never Dies 04:52
3. Dust Storms 04:58
4. Fresnel Lenses 04:38
5. Squalid Simplicities 02:56
6. Foam 02:26
7. Grosbeak 04:32
8. Spirit Of The Staircase 05:02
9. Diamonds and Dust 02:22
10. Vex Me 03:02
11. La Femme Makita 03:45
12. Voluptuaries 04:01
Brandon Seabrook - guitar
Simon Nabatov - piano
all music by Brandon Seabrook (BMI)
and Simon Nabatov (GEMA)
recorded in LOFT Cologne November 4 2019
recorded, mixed and mastered by Stefan Deistler
On Exoplanet, Rob Frye generates an atmosphere in which drummers and improvisers orbit synthesizers, inhabiting a Goldilocks zone of electronic and biotic components. Some of the tracks were created spontaneously or composed of strict loops, but two of the arrangements are melodic adaptations of the song of Musician Wren. After working as a field biologist with the Institute for Bird Populations in California from 2012-2016, Frye began to slow down and transcribe birdsong, eventually developing a performative lecture called Hearing Hidden Melodies. "XC175020" and "XC222182" are not potential earth-like planets in another solar system, indeed they are individual birds recorded by Peter Boesman in the Amazon. This bird, known as Uirapuru in Brazil and La Flautista in Peru, reminds us of the mysterious sonic knowledge threatened on our very own home planet.
On this, his first album for Astral Spirits and his first as a leader, Rob played woodwinds and synthesizers and directed a specialized crew, recruiting Bitchin' Bajas (Drag City) bandmates Cooper Crain and Dan Quinlivan on engineering and electronics. Ben Lamar Gay's cornet (International Anthem) and Macie Stewart's violin (OHMME) pitch and roll, fueled by the dual propulsion of drummers Quin Kirchner (Astral Spirits) and Tommaso Moretti (Amalgam), while Nick Ciontea (brownshoesonly) consults on modular synthesizer. Like the Uirapuru, Edbrass Brasil (Sê-Lo!) also searches through fallen leaves in some of his own work, though for sound not insects. On "Innercosmos" we he hear his unconventional wind tubes, and on "XC222182" his voice calling as instruments gather, playing the bird's melody.
1. Sunrise on Pruhina
2. XC175020 06:14
4. Jupiter Control
5. XC222182 (feat. Edbrass Brasil)
6. Lightship Sgr A Star
8. Sunset on Jgelu
ROB FRYE - compositions, woodwinds, synthesizers
COOPER CRAIN - electric organ, synthesizers
DANIEL QUINLIVAN - synthesizer, electronics, wurlitzer
BEN LAMAR GAY - cornet and wurlitzer
TOMMASO MORETTI - drums (right channel)
QUIN KIRCHNER - drums (left channel)
MACIE STEWART - violin on tracks 2, 5, and 7
NICK CIONTEA - synthesizer on tracks 3 and 4
EDBRASS BRASIL - wind instruments and voice track 3 and 5
Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas R. Ewart / Mike Reed - Sun Beans of Shimmering Light (April 16, 2021 Astral Spirits)
The free jazz genre is graced by the dynamic duo of multireedist Roscoe Mitchell, an unapologetic nonconformist, and drummer Mike Reed, an artisan of the rhythm. The sophomore release of these AACM artists is called The Ritual and the Dance and was recorded live in 2015 during their European tour. It consists of a nearly 37-minute uninterrupted storytelling with no idle moments.
The high-pitched soprano laments delivered by Mitchell take the form of piercing indigenous chants blown vertiginously with circular breathing and patterned stimuli. The dry rat-a-tat of the snare drum makes a beautiful tonal contrast with the deep bass drum kicks, establishing an intense, sedulous workout routine that will put you in a state of bemused fascination.
The impressive versatility of Reed surfaces not only when he seats behind the drumset, but also when he operates electronics with subtle sensitivity. At some point, his adept pulses are transformed into droning backgrounds, whose dark tones allow the saxophone to reflect brightly. Reed then resumes the stomping cadence but keeps changing its colors.
The turbulent environment is refrained at the minute 20, when Mitchell switches to tenor, seeking folk melodies and exploring some long notes that oscillate in pitch. His beefy, occasionally raucous tone is unadorned, if slower, here, but he switches horns again for a stimulating final stretch.
Adventurous jazz listeners will be struck by the force of this music, certainly wishing that Mitchell and Reed can collaborate again soon.
1. the Ritual and the Dance 36:43
2. the Dance SAMPLE 16:08
Roscoe Mitchell: reeds
Mike Reed: drums, electronics
Recorded by Michael Huon at the Oorstof concert series
Zuiderpershuis, Antwerp, Belgium, October 22, 2015
A Horizon Made of Canvas is a bleak marvel, a journey through the creeping sensation that something new and unexplainable is around the corner. Sharing its name with the first chapter of a book by neo-reactionary writer Mencius Moldbug, the album presents sounds like a fog: dense yet sparse, seemingly unmovable and yet always in motion, a contradictory mass whose insides are empty. I felt nervous while listening to it, a strange bodily alert that was telling me I was somehow about to fall; A Horizon draws full attention through its slight, quiet tone and subtle instrumental dialogues, like a dread mystery unfolding, making it easy to lose oneself amidst the volumes spoken by its silences. It made me want to know where it was taking me, the clarinet’s voice a jeweled allure leading only deeper inside the fog, every step a nudge in paranoiac impulses – in the end, the place where it was taking me was simply nowhere.
To be on the verge of an image of the world and finding its spiteful artificial nature is the gist of Moldbug’s chapter, but like with many an exploratory US writer, the failing of his text is that the world is the global mental projection of American society. His reductive, elaborately obtuse writing necessarily folds upon itself, its feeble attempts at describing something other than the image of his native country rapidly leading to the appearance of a revelation beholden to the replacement of an American hegemony with another of a different order. “We are left with pure confusion”, Moldbug states at the end, in what is presumably to be continued by rational illumination, but then only further entrenches within a haze of bullet-speed historical reductions that put new clothes on the Third-Positionist emperor.
The cracks in the text are like the silences in the album: they are pure nothingness, an oasis of thought for the nihilism-inclined, a warm call to live without – even beyond – illusions. But once the, it is impossible not to see that this dark refuge of desire and reason is yet another illusion itself: the music slithers on, as music, as expressionist hell, as something only seeming to be on the edge of intelligibility. For all its paranoid evocations, that no-place is still resolutely the world and its inescapable image.
Jeremiah Cymerman & Charlie Looker are masters of their craft each, having made careers out of consistently severe and challenging work. This is perhaps both artists’ heaviest project to date, which is saying something. The slow-burning realization of desires unfulfilled, of the failure of the nihilist outlook, of the powerful sensation of being at the edge of something truly new whittling away into nerve-wracking deception – every call and every response sums up into a great everything whose initially imposing size is ultimately revealed to be insignificant after a simple shift in perspective. This is the other great dimension in the album, a mournful constant that underlies the music’s allures. It ends without any sense of having ended, but unlike ambient or drone works that seem to continue on as a lingering register somewhere in our consciousness, A Horizon Made of Canvas cuts all pretenses of continuity away. Its distortions and modernist klezmer-like riffs do not stay, they do not welcome the listener into any sort of fold.
When I thought I’d finally know where we were going, they just turned away, and left me reeling. I smiled, but it was a smile without mirth. No wonder the album starts with a track called “The Ecstasy of Betrayal”, perhaps a reference to Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love. Paradoxically, for Genet, it is only in that passionate moment being betrayed when clarity arrives, when true goodness, true connection with others, becomes possible. My nervousness passed, and in the mournfulness for having being deceived I let it all go.
If you’ve ever been attracted by the end of the world, this is for you. Let its spark tempt you, let the nothingness feel like home – the end is one more image, and it will turn its back on you, too. By the time its alienating, bleak music suddenly falls quiet, it will let you return to others, it will let you appreciate the joy of belonging. After all, it is the canvas that is made of horizons, not the other way around. (David Murrieta Flores)
1. The Ecstasy of Betrayal 09:34
2. Speaking of Dust 10:33
3. I'll Show You What You Are 03:17
4. A Horizon Made of Canvas 13:04
5. Samson 07:31
Jeremiah Cymerman: clarinets, pedals
Charlie Looker, guitars, piano
Recorded by Chris Schlarb at BIG EGO Studios, Long Beach CA, January 10th, 2020
Mixed by Jeremiah Cymerman
Mastered by James Plotkin