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"Autumn Music" Leo Records 2004


JazzReview 2004

Russian born jazz pianist and consummate improviser, Simon Nabatov is steadily building his already impressive resume, via some fine and undeniably distinct recordings for European labels such as Leo Records. He combines the freedom of thought, akin to Cecil Taylor with a delicate means of spinning a melody, sometimes sparking notions of Bill Evans. Each Nabatov recording looms as a distinct entity. Along with cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Michael Vatcher, the pianist fuses various genres – in a subtle way – into personalized statements, on this superb release.

The trio generally builds a theme from the ground up here. They toggle between a chamber-type, sense of minimalism while affording themselves ample improvising opportunities. At times, Reijseger scrapes strings and contrasts Nabatov's trickling notes, amid airy dialogues, where quietude comes into play. On "Autumn Music Part II," the musicians extract notions of a nocturnal setting via somber chord voicings and classical overtones. Whereas Nabatov eventually develops a pop-style melody atop Vatcher's straight-four pulse. In addition, Nabatov and Reijseger pick up the intensity level with counterbalancing lines. But part of the fun equates to the trio's ability to delve into various grooves and rhythms, where tense frameworks transparently coexist with peaceful surroundings. Nabatov is also apt to meld fiery single note, right-hand leads with movements that could be analogous to a Schubert scored piano recital. Either way, here's a top 10 pick for 2004 that should not go unnoticed! (Zealously recommended…)

Glenn Astarita

Variations on the theme 2004

While the free jazzerati are at it, they can also consider Autumn Music by the Simon Nabatov Trio. The album is spurred by a radical ethos similar to Shoup, et al, but pianist Nabatov, cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Michael Vatcher create a considerable amount of poetry and drama, beginning with the sombre, unnerving and peculiar clicks, ticks and squealing strings of part one of the title track, something like a musical replication of a sudden October downpour. They later move into the more tuneful second part, exquisitely melancholy, self-pitying even, until reaching a resolutely optimistic conclusion.

Autumn Music's rendition of the Herbie Nichols standard "Lady Sings the Blues" is indicative of Nabatov's modus operandi: challenge without alienating. The bandleader himself describes it in the liner notes as a "perky and bouncy" interpretation, and he doesn't exaggerate. There are moments of bright keyboard cacophony and thunderous outbursts, but this ungainliness is countered by the rhythm section, Reijseger calmly (up to a point) alternating between bowed and plucked strings, Vatcher steadily brushing the drums. Ultimately the tune fades into something eerie, surreal. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Valsa do porto das caixas" closes the album. The trio gives this cover a paradoxical twist, performing it in a way that is both intimate and grand.

E.J. Iannelli


One Final Note October 2004

Simon Nabatov's music is a marvel. Whether digging and scraping inside the piano, lightly sprinkling disconnected runs over the top of a skitterish percussion pattern, or playing completely out-of tempo fragments sounding as if he has scooped up the keys and is willy-nilly dropping them back into place, he is completely under control, a master musician with a keen sense of humor and an obvious love for his instrument. For those unfamiliar with Nabatov's under-recorded career, there are few precursors out there—and certainly none who bring together the sheer range of styles and approaches quite like Nabatov. At various times Crispell, Ganelin, or Tippett come to mind, and during "swinging" moments Don Pullen comparisons may be somewhat helpful. Ultimately, however, Nabatov's strength is in his singularity of vision and commitment to realizing this vision through a shocking technique and musical skill.

Nabatov has chosen apt partners in this trio setting, with the wonderful Michael Vatcher on percussion and Ernst Reijseger on cello. Vatcher is used to these settings, and is the perfect foil for Nabatov. Whether swinging like a man falling down the stairs, providing complex sonorities and textures, or lightly swishing brushes to a beat that few can hear, Vatcher brings a thoroughly integrated approach to his playing. Rarely standing out or taking the spotlight, he somehow manages to provide the exact feel at the exact moment needed and is consequently the consummate partner.

Reijseger's playing is full of superb pizzicato statements throughout, with a solid ability to swing when called upon. He's particularly bouncy on the Herbie Nichols tune, "Lady Sings The Blues", and his background walking line during Nabatov's solo (a highlight of the entire session) is the ideal accompaniment. Sounding as if he is using an electric cello, Reijseger loses a bit of warmth at times but makes up for it in the distorted passages and staccato lines he manages to pull from his instrument—"Hardly Obliged" is certainly worth mentioning for Reijseger's contributions alone.

In the end, Autumn Music proves to be a striking statement of piano trio music, albeit a wee bit short at 58 minutes. For all of the creative music recordings that last 30 minutes past their prime (having begun to repeat already worn out ideas), here is finally a session that ends way before one is ready. Ending the session on a Jobim tune is an inspired choice, showcasing Nabatov's breadth without being self-conscious about it. Like the earlier Nichols piece, this is no Jobim that most would readily recognize, as Nabatov puts a clear stamp on everything he does—but Jobim it is nonetheless, with a beautiful melancholy strewn throughout. The opening extended solo is remarkable in the complete independence Nabatov shows in his playing, with cascading notes that sound like rain, falling at random. The piece ends, again perhaps a bit too abruptly, as the strength of the entire disc sets in. One pauses to smile, and then quickly gets up to press the play button again.

Matthew Sumera


Paris Transatlantic 2004

The title suggests restful contemplation, but any such idea is instantly violated by the freeform, fragmented opening of the title track, composed by pianist Simon Nabatov on the eve of an autumn tour with cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Michael Vatcher. It's a disconcerting beginning, but not to worry: the second half of the piece switches to the expected sombre minor keys, before a little gospel piano brings things to an upbeat conclusion. Simon Nabatov's uncanny ability to develop solos in a logical and effortlessly engaging manner is the sort of mother lode that Keith Jarrett successfully mined when his career was in the ascendant. It's hard to believe then that Nabatov has been playing for 30 years in relative obscurity, but since 2000 his output has been on the upswing, primarily thanks to Leo Records. Joining forces with Reijseger and Vatcher is an inspired choice too, building on the earlier piano trio successes of Three Stories, One End and Sneak Preview, while adding a new wrinkle with the substitution of cello for bass. Their disc has a wealth of contrasts. Vatcher's ethereal cymbal bowing serves as a shimmering soundscape for ice-cold piano raindrops on "for m. f." (a Morton Feldman tribute), which is followed by a New Dutch Swing treatment of "Lady Sings the Blues", Reijseger stating the theme over a clip-clop beat before Nabatov steps in to establish some semblance of order. Next up is "Hardly Obliged", in which cello and drums clatter along like mischief-makers doing their best to disrupt the piano's stately theme. Add a thoughtful Reijseger composition and an obscure Jobim song ("Valsa do Porto das Caixas"), and you have a disc that is easy to recommend.


Splendid 2004

Pianist Simon Nabatov, joined for this trio date by cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Michael Vatcher, explores a wide gamut of styles on Autumn Music. "Autumn Music I" involves all three members of the trio playing extended techniques, scratching, sawing and clubbing away with abandon; it seems as if they hate the back-to-school season just as much as kids do. "Autumn Music II", on the other hand, features the trio in a somewhat more conventional context, playing triadic music. After a gentle introduction, Reijseger performs a solo that is both ardent and affecting.

Two standards are included: Herbie Nichols's "Lady Sings the Blues" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Valsa do porto das caixas". While Nabatov always finds a new wrinkle, an off-kilter harmony or soloistic quirk when performing others' material, he is always affectionate and respectful in his interpretations. In the Jobim, his fluid sense of rhythm and limpid cascades of arpeggios are particularly striking. A Nabatov original, "Hardly Obliged", brings together the avant and jazz strands of the trio's activities; Nabatov plays a ballad straight, while Reijseger and Vatcher go berserk in the background.

Nabatov and company present a curious mixture of fare on Autumn Music, but their polystylism makes the disc a compelling document of jazz on the fringe.

Christian Carey