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"Master and Margarita" Leo Records 2001


 DOWN BEAT May 2002 ****1/2

Besides his exceptional technical faculties, Russian pianist Simon Nabatov has demonstrated his laudable compositional talents... With his second outing for Leo...Nabatov scores a glowing portraiture to Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita...It quickly becomes evident that the artist strikes a delicate balance often consisting of avant-garde etchings intertwined with listener-friendly melodies. Otherwise, the instrumentalists spawn or regenerate sub-themes, where fragments are interleaved into a slightly concealed framework that naturally falls into place...Nabatov anchors the ensemble with either fluent right-hand leads, well-placed harmonics or daintly formulated chord voicings, while also assisting with some of the asymmetrically devised rhythmic structures...The ensemble links...moments together via a series of majestic decrees and breezy swing vamps amid a wealth of gorgeously executed interludes and animated exchanges. The musicians occasionally meld waltz motifs with inharmonious anarchy, as Nabatov's commissioned translation of this classic tome hits the mark in a rather huge way.

Glenn Astarita


...This is truly remarkable music, a bit jazzier than one might expect from the avantgarde label Leo: there's nothing here that would scare anyone accustomed to Dave Douglas or Joe Lovano. And it is, quite simply, one of the loveliest albums of 2001. It draws together everything from delicate, classical-influenced themes to hard-driving postbop to touches of free jazz; the choice of players seems to have been made with considerable attention to sonority, as the combination of trumpet and violin is often extraordinarily beautiful, and Tom Rainey is one of the most vibrantly coloristic of drummers this side of Gerry Hemingway. The tracks are all about 10-15 minutes long, and they cover a lot of territory, in a logical yet surprising way. I can think of few more rewarding jazz discs from the past year: highly recommended.

Nate Dorward


...This lean, supple unit moves effortlessly between freely improvised and precisely notated passages; out-of-tempo storms of sound and tight, dancing grooves; sedate, elegant moods; wails of torment and confusion; and even playfulness on occasion. Each track is an epic of its own, often encompassing all these contrasts and more. To help orient listeners, Nabatov, in the liner notes, provides his own track-by-track plot summary. This is avant-garde jazz's answer to classical "programme" music, a particularly strong and ambitious entry in a growing genre.

David R. Adler


...Another unique quintet that straddles improvisation and composition can be heard on Simon Nabatov's The Master And Margarita (Leo). Avowed Muscovite Nabatov is still most renowned for his Waldron-esque trio recordings, but last year saw the release of two, more ambitious projects via the Leo label—Nature Morte, musical settings for verse by Joseph Brodsky, and this interpretation of Bulgakov's epic modern allegory. I suppose you could call The Master And Margarita a pastiche, as the program references Webern, Shostakovich, Weill, bop, American popular song, and even Phillip Glass-styled minimalism. Nabatov also tends towards real harmonic daring, which renders his references and forays into quotation and interpolation even more dizzying. But isn't pastiche a pitfall of all program music, a demand of drama, a form in which shifts of locale, time, logic and sympathies are possible from line to line? Moreover, Bulgakov's novel is a structural oddity if there ever was one, a political allegory designed to have its correspondences buckle, then self-destruct. As a whole, the vastness of The Master And Margarita renders it very difficult to evaluate after even two or three listenings. Nabatov's trademark rhythmic complexity and intensity, his favoring of large, hard-struck chordal shapes that shear and slip against one another like tectonic plates, is the landscape on which these musical structures stand, and connects to his piano trio music. On the most jazz-infused pieces here, such as "The Show" from the program's second half (it contains some of the most memorable music here), this can lead to climax upon climax tumbling out of the ensemble. And, as ravishing as both Mark Feldman and Herb Robertson (whose work in this idiom still goes largely unremarked upon; it is a significant aspect of his oeuvre) sound, there's not much lyric beauty here. The sustained tones that open "Don't Talk to Strangers" may sound Debussy-like at first, but their shimmer is that of waves of heat coming off pavement, not the rippling of sunlight on water. The Master And Margarita turns on such juxtapositions, its tenderness cloaked in sarcasm, its obliquities—there are many—disguising articles of faith. One cannot quibble with the precision and commitment with which Nabatov's group performs here, and the use of the ensemble is highly creative. Elements are routinely out of place, and the group is alternatively several duos, trios, and quartets. Long-time Nabatov drummer Tom Rainey in particular has a difficult role, one which he fills admirably. The Master And Margarita music feels simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. The end result is comparable to a Coen Brothers film. The work is undeniably intelligent and expertly crafted, the actors brilliantly, emotionally convincing, but one begins to wonder if the point of the many puzzles thrown up in the course of the telling isn't, finally, the cultivation of a sense of puzzlement. There is not much here which does not sound predetermined in some sense; as a result, some surprise has been replaced by the "jazz" we detect in articulation and in complicated attitudes of irreverence.

Joe Milazzo