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"Nature Morte" Leo Records 2001


„Nature Morte“ is the title of a poem written in 1971 by Joseph Brodsky. He and pianist Simon Nabatov were both born in Russia and later resettled in America. Nabatov took the ten-part poem, a rich conjuration of life and death, and wrote what can only be described as an ambitious song cycle, even though the fact that Phil Minton sings it means one must stretch his usual definition of the word „song“. Trombonist Nils Wogram and saxophonist Frank Gratkowski (also heard on clarinet, bass clarinet and flute) complete this impressive quartet. Nature Morte is a work of symbiosis, first between Brodsky’s words and Nabatov’s music, then between the music and the very talented musicians, the words and Minton’s interpretation of them (both intellectual and physical), Minton’s interpretation and Nabatov’s. One immediately thinks of the singer’s Mouthful of Ecstasy, another quartet which rooted in literature (this piece uses excerpts from James Joyce’s work). But the two pieces stand much apart: Nature Morte is less improvised, abstract and arid, a lot more soulful, gentle, and organized. Minton’s voice goes from warm (Part 8) to guttural (his solo at the beginning of „Part 9“). Nabatov’s piano provides the backbone of the music, with his complex chords and rhythm patterns framing the songs, while Gratkowski and Wogram dialogue with each other and develop the harmonic content.s. A peak is reached in „Part 4“, where an insisting motif clashes against Minton’s idiosyncratic vocal improvisations. This Nature Morte is a thing of beauty, revealing itself a little more at every listen. Very strongly recommended.

Francois Couture, Rovi


one final note summer 2001

Russian-born Nabatov has been receiving a lot of accolades lately for his virtuoso trio work. His compositions and improvising have always been marked by a restlessness, which finds him shifting formal devices like meter as often as he does styles and moods. With Nature Morte, he shifts to a new improvising idiom, foregoing the relatively settled context of the trio for an adventurous instrumentation of voice, trombone, reeds, and piano. These superb improvisers contend with Nabatov's scoring for Josef Brodsky's 10-part poem of the same name.

There aren't too many precedents for text-based projects in the improv world - one thinks of Lacy, for sure, and some of Phil Minton's own prior work - but this unique quartet has clearly let the text sink into its pores. Minton sounds particularly impassioned in his recital of this rich but ambiguous meditation on life and death. He is at his best in projects like these, with enough structure to reign in his most schticky tendencies. He can use his full range of voices - from robotic to splattering to banshee wail - to highlight the nuances of the text. His recitation over the craggy 'bone and alto line on "Part 2" is very effective and "Part 5" is a memorable feature for his multiple vocal personalities.

The pairing of Gratkowski and Wogram was particularly pleasing. I've been more and more impressed with Gratkowski of late, who seems to be able to do just about anything on his reeds, from supersonic Giuffre-like explorations on the B-flat to honks and chortles on the alto. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear him spending a lot of time with his flutes on this program. Newer to me was Wogram, who is clearly a comer. He's got the total post-Mangelsdorff package: the whinnying multiphonics, the stentorian voices, the outlandish braying, and the fragile lyricism. And when he and Gratkowski really link up, as on the dizzy race that ends "Part 4," the effects are startling.

Nabatov's own piano is superb, from his dense chording to his highly rhythmic playing or graceful melodies; he is both an abstract painter and a sober, deliberate voice that complements Minton's reading of the text. He is spiky and jarring when he needs to be, as in "Part 3" or on his inside-the-piano explorations during "Parts 6-7," but he can also sober things up, playing gorgeously, delicately, even ephemerally.

The ensemble goes whole hog on the final piece, playing quite soulfully. One certainly doesn't miss a "traditional" instrumentation - these four mavericks are able to conjure a myriad of moods, textures, and evocative sounds in a way that both suits the chilly text and charts out new poetic realms of its own. This is a splendid release.

Jason Bivins



Il pianista Simon Nabatov è uno dei virtuosi contemporanei del pianoforte, ma troppo spesso sottovalutato dalla critica. Testardo com`è, continua per la sua strada alla ricerca di gemme sonore all`interno del suo pianoforte.

Così come Josef Brodski, anche Nabatov fu costretto a scappare dall`Unione Sovietica per approdare negli Stati Uniti. Negli anni `80 fu in alcuni tour con il quartetto del sassofonista Jim Snidero, poi ha lavorato con il clarinettista Perry Robinson. Negli ultimi anni si è trasferito in Germania, pur incidendo e dando concerti ancora con musicisti statunitensi, in trio insieme a Mark Helias e Tom Rainey. Non va poi dimenticato il soggiorno italiano durato qualche anno.

Si diceva di Josef Brodski, poeta russo, che scappato in Occidente, ricevette il Premio Nobel per la letteratura. Il suo poema "Nature morte" mantiene l`intensità originale anche nella traduzione in inglese. Il lavoro di Simon Nabatov, che ha arrangiato la musica intorno a questi versi, "cantati" da Phil Minton, è un "miracolo di forza e di visione, una sincronia rara di parti in cui testo, composizione e improvvisazione si ascoltano come parti complementari nella loro essenza". A queste parole di Stuart Broomer nelle note di copertina c`è poco di aggiungere, basta ascoltare un paio di pezzi per rendersi conto di come Nabatov sia stato fortemente ispirato dai versi del suo connazionale e capace di (ri)esprimerlo in un altra lingua, la musica, un`impresa che va quasi paragonata a quella del traduttore del poema in inglese, George Kline.

La voce di Phil Minton declama/canta i versi, accompagnato dai due fiati e dal pianoforte, capace di infondere forza al testo attraverso i differenti approcci al testo. Questi vanno dal puntillismo, alla tecnica seriale, senza dimenticare le ballads; tutto coerente, tutto fuso perfettamente, un colpo di genio del pianista russo e dei suoi collaboratori, la tecnica al servizio dell`ispirazione e non, come spesso accade, viceversa.

Musica e poesia in un incontro che sfiora la perfezione. *****

Vittorio Lo Conte