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Frank Gratkowski - Simon Nabatov - Dominik Mahnig

 

"Dance Hall Stories" Leo Records 2020

 

 

For Simon Nabatov "Dance Hall Stories" is yet another 
trio, also recorded at LOFT, but this time involving 
piano-reeds-drums. It is in fact the second disc with
Frank: the first was a duo record, "Mirthful Myths". The more recent album starts 
with the two beautiful duo tracks, illustrating amazing 
mutual understanding of the two musicians: "Hopeful
Glances" is a free improvised, neo-impressionistic track 
played on alto, while the shorter, but faster "Wrong 
Move Reflected“, is a small masterpiece for bass clarinet. 
Despite numerous explosions of expression, what they 
play is a "kind free jazz" à la Ivo Perelman or François 
Carrier. The first trio track is "It's All In The Hips", 
another fast piece, with wonderful poly-rhythmic theme 
and tempo changes. "Slinky" is an unquestionable masterpiece 
for flute played by the duo. The second trio piece 
"Gradual Enticement" is played on alto, and is a beautiful 
slow free improvised ballad with truly delicate melodic 
motifs and phrases. "Sitting One Out" is notable for Simon’s 
playing inside the piano, with Frank commenting on 
clarinet. "Cautious Invitation" is a duo track for piano 
and bass clarinet, perhaps the most impressive show 
of Frank's ability to combine the incredible technique with 
unbelievable emotional content. The trio track "Pocket 
Found", an explosion of joy from the drums, alto and piano, 
rounds up this phenomenal album, forgetting about "kind 
free jazz" for good 5 minutes!

Maciej Lewenstein

 The New York City Jazz Record May 2020

The wit and originality are just as apparent on Dance Hall Stories, a session with Frank Gratkowski, likely Nabatov’s most frequent associate, playing a host of reeds, and drummer Dominik Mahnig, who joins in on half of the eight tracks. With titles tracing a comic dance hall experience, the music has the rare distinction of being both freely improvised and programmatic. Gratkowski and Nabatov share the special empathy of improvisers who have collaborated closely for decades. It shows in the opening “Hopeful Glance”, with Gratkowski on alto saxophone. Its quiet opening suggests a clarinet, but by its midpoint the cascading runs are unquestionably those of an alto. In pointed contrast to the rambunctious energy of “Wrong Move Reflected”, a bass clarinet/ piano duo, the elusive “Sitting One Out” combines thin reed sounds with empathetic E-bowing of the piano strings. Mahnig adds a very different element to the trio pieces, the close conversation of the duets giving way to an increasing intensity. The erratic drum patterns trigger the ultimate mayhem of “Gradual Enticement”, which, by its conclusion, has Gratkowski achieving a kind of virtuosic sputtering, as if multiple alto saxophonists have been sped up.

Stuart Broomer

 All About Jazz May 2020

Recorded in April 2017, Dance Hall Stories has the distinction of introducing a new ensemble to the variety of groupings in which Gratkowski and Nabatov have played together, from duo up to octet; the pair were joined by drummer Dominik Mahnig, who also drums in Nabatov's trio with bassist Stefan Schönegg. Mahnig played on four of the eight tracks, the Gratkowski-Nabatov duo playing alone on the other four. Despite being about half the age of his bandmates here, Mahnig fits right in and gives a good account of himself throughout, making the threesome sound like an established trio. As its cover art and title suggest, Dance Hall Stories is a concept album centred around the dance hall experience, a point further emphasized by track titles such as "Gradual Enticement" and "Sitting One Out." But, despite the titles, it is worth stressing that the music played on the album was improvised and could never be mistaken for actual dance hall music; while that may be a disappointment to some, it seems likely to come as a relief to far more. Rather than dance hall music, the players seem more intent on conveying the range of emotions which could accompany a visit to a dance hall—shy reluctance, insecurity, hope, elation, disappointment, and so forth... To convey such a spectrum, Gratkowski employs clarinet, bass clarinet and flute in addition to his alto saxophone, and the music shows considerable variation in tempo and mood from track to track. So, the opener, "Hopeful Glances," begins slowly and tentatively with long, plaintive saxophone notes conjuring up images of an isolated, nervous individual, an image which persists even when the tempo picks up a little. At the other end of the spectrum, the more up-tempo five-and-a-half minute "It's all in the Hips" conveys some of the excitement and enthusiasm of someone for whom dancing has finally clicked, engendering a sense of fun and adventure. Yes, across its forty-nine minutes, this album covers a lot of ground most effectively.

John Eyles

 NRW Jazz Net March 2020

Gleich zwei neue Alben aus der Kölner Szene der improvisierten Musik sind aktuell bei Leo Records erschienen, beide mit dem umtriebigen Ausnahmepianisten Simon Nabatov: Dance Hall Stories und Time Labyrinth. Nein, tanzbare Musik sind von den acht Tracks der ersteren CD nicht zu erwarten, wie Titel und Cover vielleicht suggerieren. Im Duo mit Frank Gratkowski (as, cl, fl) und in vier Stücken in Trio-Besetzung gemeinsam mit Dominik Mahnig (dr) sind vielmehr hochspannende Musikszenen einer Aufnahme aus dem Kölner LOFT zu bestaunen. Der mit über 10 Minuten lange Opener Hopeful Glances etwa beginnt mit einem verrätselten Irrlichtern von Altsax und Piano, um in dynamischer Zunahme in einen furiosen Dialog der beiden Instrumente überzugehen. Die wuchtigen Akkordsprünge vom Bass bis zum Diskant sind als Nabatov’sche Spielweise nicht unbekannt, ebenso wenig Frank Gratkowskis expressives Spiel mit seinen Blasinstrumenten – wie etwa auch in Wrong Move Reflected, einem dissonanten, fast aggressiv-zupackenden Zwiegespräch von Bass-Klarinette und Piano, das mit einem erschöpften Saiten- und Klappen-Spiel endet, oder in Slinky, einem Derwisch-Tanz von Querflöte und Piano. Dominik Mahnig als Vertreter der jüngeren Generation von Improvisationsmusikern fügt sich mit seinem filigranen und zupackenden Einsatz unterschiedlicher Perkussionsinstrumente und -techniken wunderbar in den Kosmos der virtuellen Dance Hall ein, etwa in dem nervös-groovigen It’s All In The Hips, dem geheimnisvollen Gradual Enticement mit seinem ekstatischen Ende oder dem kraftvoll-zupackenden und vorwärtstreibenden Titel Pocked Found. Das Album besteht in beiden Formationen aus atmosphärisch ausgesprochen dichter musikalischer Narration mit je eigener Dynamik und unterschiedlichen Klangräumen, die trotz ihres abstrakten Charakters eine beeindruckende Farbigkeit erzeugen. Konzentriert man sich auf die Interaktion der Musiker, erschließt sich einem auch eher der Album-Titel: Die acht Stücke geben ein gelungenes Zeugnis von musikalischer Interpretation des zwischenmenschlichen Kommunizierens: von vorsichtig-tastender Annäherung, von Zurückweisen, von weiteren Annäherungsversuchen bis hin zum ausgelassen-ekstatischen Miteinander – Geschichten, die man sich im Kontext des realen Tanzbodens so vorstellen kann.

Heinrich Brinkmöller-Becker

 Music Zoom March 2020

La nuova incisione del pianista di origine russa Simon Nabatov è stata realizzata come sempre al Loft di Colonia in Germania in duo insieme a Frank Gratkowski al sax alto, clarinetti e flauto su quattro brani, negli altri quattro c’è il giovane batterista svizzero Dominik Mahnig ad ampliare il gruppo. Il titolo può sembrare fuorviante per chi da tempo segue le imprese dei tre protagonisti dell’improvvisazione e dell’avanguardia, nelle note di copertina si spiega che è solo un modo di descrivere come nella musica e nelle sale da ballo i protagonisti si muovono all’interno di di uno spazio in cui vengono fuori tante emozioni, anche contrastanti. Hopeful Glances che apre l’album è una lunga improvvisazione, più di dieci minuti, in cui il sax alto ed il pianoforte trovano spazi in cui esprimere la loro vitalità debordante, altrove, su Sitting One Out è il trio che si ricorda che il genere free è sempre attuale. Il sassofono contralto abrasivo di Gratkowski rende la musica incendiaria insieme agli altri due musicisti, reattivi davanti alla proposta. Ci sono ovviamente atmosfere più tranquille, Cautious Invitation, in cui Gratkowski è al clarinetto basso e Nabatov suona il pianoforte dall’interno, oppure la parentesi di Slinky in cui il protagonista è il flauto. I tre fanno buon uso di tutto quello che l’avanguardia ha scoperto, è un disco vario in cui il dialogo in duo o in trio trova sempre situazioni nuove ricche di fermenti che rendono la musica appassionante per chi apprezza il genere.

Vittorio Lo Conte

 Percorsi Musicali May 2020

Progetto quanto mai interessante, i tre si erano già incontrati su disco nel 2017 con l’album  Mirthful Myths. Un’improvvisazione radicale, libera, che ricorda una danza seguendo i due movimenti dell’avvicinamento e dell’allontanamento. Le forze che si spostano sono continue tra i tre musicisti. Come ci ricorda il filosofo Davide Sparti in Suoni Inauditi ci si muove sempre seguendo quanto si è costruito con una logica circolare, “ […] il jazzista non suona ciò che pensa di suonare ma risponde a ciò che avrà fatto accadere. Ogni atto successivo entra in dialogo con, definisce e ridefinisce retrospettivamente”. I tre protagonisti si ascoltano attentamente, ognuno si inserisce, raccoglie frammenti sonori, sviluppa o recede da ciò che era in potenza nel precedente momento. Gratkowski pare trascinare fortemente il pianista (Hopeful Glances). In It’s All in The Hips la batteria si interpone spezzando la conversazione decisa, decisa di piano e sassofono. Gratkowski instaura una competizione con il piano passando al flauto in Slinky: ottime coloriture  e fraseggio. Un ottimo esempio di ciò che significa improvvisare con gioia.

Nicola Barin