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"PLAIN" Clean Feed Records 2020



 Point Of Departure September 2020

Pianist and composer Nabatov has one of the best batting averages in the music, but somehow never quite seems to get the attention he merits. A prodigious technician, a lover of quirky repertory, and always the beneficiary of a cracking band, Nabatov brings together all the elements I generally look for. And simply put, Plain is one of his best in recent years. He’s joined by Chris Speed on tenor and clarinet, trumpeter Herb Robertson, and the telepathic team of bassist John Hébert and drummer Tom Rainey. The date starts off with the title track, featuring an exploratory, tonally ambiguous duet between Nabatov and Speed’s sinuous clarinet. There’s marvelous simpatico among the whole group, no small feat given how different the personalities are. Needless to say, the bassist and drummer are well versed in playing together, but the singular contributions of Robertson especially bring such flavor to these tunes, whether it’s in rambunctious swing or the faint melancholy of the track’s ending. Many of the tunes are of the tough-to-navigate sort that combine serious textural experimentation with a noticeable density of line or notation. In “Copy That,” for example, the quintet falls into dark clouds, filled with glissandi and smears. They ride a pedal point that stops on a dime for a sparse, pointillistic turn. Then there’s quick trading and unisons of “Cry from Hell” filled with crisp snare and clarinet chirps. These tunes feel so natural, but they are brash and inventive in their construction and in the improvising, whether it’s the spacious drift of “Break” or the outrageous “Ramblin’ On,” which finds Robertson – in his best Waits/Beefheart voice – hollering through a bullhorn. Beautiful rhythmic shapes emerge organically, often playfully in this music. It ranges from rhapsody to churn, from hush to clangor. The wide-ranging “Slow Thinker,” for example, has the horns playing aching long lines over lovely brushwork before multiple curveballs speed things into and out of abstraction. And, fittingly given Nabatov’s influences, the date is capped off with a lively stroll through Herbie Nichols’ “House Party Starting,” Nabatov gleefully leaning into the familiar theme with playful asides, tempo shifts, and bracingly swift runs. As captivating as the rhythmic and harmonic variations from his bandmates are, it’s Nabatov who compels throughout this performance, right down to the last lingering notes of the gloriously lyrical solo piano coda.

Jason Bivins


 Jazz Word October 2020

Product of a single vision rather than many, Plain’s progress doesn’t stint on other players’ participation though. Each sequence emphasizes individual tones as well as the composer’s vision, with even the concluding “House Party Starting”, the set’s one non-original, eventually transforming Herbie Nichols offbeat swing to be personalized in Speed’s tenor saxophone solo that leads into a delicate almost semi-classical piano solo. Each of the six Nabatov compositions move between these parameters, while showing his keyboard skills with canny tonal deviations. For instance the first and title tune appears to be chamber Jazz as Speed’s undulating clarinet lines brush up against the pianist’s formalism. Yet by the midpoint the addition of muted trumpet and drum beats turns the piece into subtle swing with Nabatov using the sound and space as if he was Red Garland. Rugged and irregularly paced, the subsequent “Copy That” quickly reaches a crescendo of multiple timbres. These sound shards come from reed slurps, cornet buzzes, arco bass sweeps and rococo keyboard emphasis. Yet just as the jigsaw-puzzle piece-like textures are affiliated, they break apart into smaller and briefer tones. Throughout, multiphonic and polyphonic passages are emphasized as Nabatov’s compositions and playing allow for sophisticated swells and dissolves. Plus these comprehensive grooves are stretched to include asides like saxophone snarls or burnished tones from the trumpet. Even the penultimate “Slow Thinker” betrays its title by evolving from an exercise in languid cymbal motions from Rainey and swabbing sweeps from Hébert to advance in pointillist morsels. Without ever losing the connective thread, the narrative adds colors in the form of reed puffs and sul tasto string buzzes as it advances until attaining a sped up conclusion. If Nabatov is a slow thinker he does so to create multi-dimensional compositions. On Plain these composition are performed with a maximum of élan.

Ken Waxman

 Jazz Trail April 2020

Signaling the third appearance of Russian-born pianist Simon Nabatov on Clean Feed, Plain is his second consecutive quintet effort and the follow up to Last Minute Theory (2019). However, none of the musicians that joined him on the latter has performed in this new work. The bandleader put together another A-list group with bassist John Hébert and drummer Tom Rainey constituting a sturdy foundation, and with saxophonist Chris Speed and trumpeter Herb Robertson assuring a nimble frontline. The latter contributes one short piece called “Ramblin’ On”, a quite intense stretch where he literally vociferates with a distorted effect in the company of Speed’s punchy attacks and the insane entanglement weaved by the rhythm section. From the five Nabatov originals on the album, I elect “Plain” and “Break” as highlights. The former begins with an elegant piano-clarinet recital that conjures up the most refined classical music. A sultry Arabic feel mixes with the sound of czars and an avant-jazz boldness is inevitably thrown in the mix. Speed shows off his burnished sound and expressive vocabulary, and things get tenser with Robertson’s continuous flux of terse notes, during which Nabatov colors with sophistication in the accompaniment. The pianist’s penchant for improvisation is amply demonstrated throughout the record, but he truly excels here, before the beautifully melodic conclusion. For its part, “Break” is mounted with deftness and delivered with tact, displaying bouts of excellent playing. At first, we have sax and trumpet working together, having a cerebral arco bass as a supportive factor. Sudden bursts of energy are injected by the rhythm team, and Nabatov’s ingenious pianism comes to the fore once again as he improvises with a sure sense of time and phrasing over a groovy tapestry. The moody “Copy That” intersperses mystifying and cacophonous moments with dexterity, working the low-end sounds with a serious-minded posture. It contrasts with “Cry From Hell”, which despite the title may suggest, feels much more relaxed in the way that it consolidates the numerous musical vistas acquired by Nabatov throughout the years. It’s a mixed bag of Monk’s angular swing, Brazilian elements, jazz tradition, and a dash of Herbie Nichols’ musical temper. It’s exactly with a classic piece of the aforementioned pianist - “House Party Starting” - that the group concludes this session. The musicians involved in this project channel their contagious energies with a common sense of direction, facilitating Nabatov's musical personality to come through loud and clear.


 Jazz Magazine France 2020

Aidé par une équipe de cracks - ChrisSpeed (cl, ts), Herb Robertson (tp, cornet), John Hébeft (b) et Tom Rainey (dr) - Simon Nabatov (p) signe avec "Plain" l'un de ses meilleurs albums. Loin de ses projets conceptuels, la musique gagne en accessibilité. Pièces déclinées ou a contrario ouvertes, impro collective, choro sur mesure, tout nous botte. L’agité Ramblin' on, avec un Robertson éructant, et l'impeccable House Party Starling d'Herbie Nichols méritent à eux seuls le déplacement.

David Cristol


Time In Portugal May 2020

EIS MAIS um capítulo do reatar
das conexões do pianista russo Simon Nabatov à vanguarda jazzística nova-iorquina: a formação é completamente diversa da que gravou o excelente Last Minute Theory (2019), mas é de coturno comparável: Herb Robertson (trompete), Chris Speed (sax, clarinete), John Hébert (contrabaixo) e Tom Rainey (bateria). A longa faixa-título leva tempo até começar a carburar, mas depois ganha ímpeto imparável, seja qual for a paisagem que atravesse. Não menos excitante é “Cry From Hell”, uma surpreendente e deliciosamente enviesada incursão na música brasileira. Mais inesperado ainda é “Ramblin’ On”, uma improvisação tumultuosa que serve de suporte a uma homilia demente de Robertson através de um megafone. Depois destas e outras tropelias, o CD fecha com uma leitura do magnífico “House Party Starting”, de Herbie Nichols, numa leitura “ortodoxa”, mas plena de frescura.


CF Improjazz September 2020

Tout commence Par une entrée en matière très romantico-debussyenne entre Simon Nabatov et Chris Speed avant que contrebassiste (John Hébert) et batteur (Tom Rainey) distillent un canevas rythmique mouvant. Maintenant, le clarinettiste s'impose en maître absolu de la fluidité; Herb Robertson, au contraire, défie et anime les turbulences; le pianiste impulse un jazz sans scruples ni scorie. Naviguant entre compositions savamment Pensées et improvisations collectives, tous prennent le parti de l'imbrication et des métamorphoses soudaines sans que le procédé agresse. Soit des textures ouvertes et, au final, légitimes. Le tour de passe-passe n'est ni rapt ni éloquence gratuite mais, bel et bien, la griffe d’un pianiste-compositeur, émérite funambule-équilibriste aux tumultes raisonnés.


All About Jazz Italy October 2020

Dopo aver riallacciato proficui rapporti con l'ambiente musicale di New York (e il precedente album per la Clean Feed, Last Minute Theory lo dimostra), il pianista Simon Nabatov coinvolge altri notevoli esponenti del jazz più innovativo, in equilibrio tra mainstream avanzato e post-free. Nomi d'alto rilievo come il sassofonista Chris Speed, il trombettista Herb Robertson, il bassista John Hébert e il batterista Tom Rainey. Il pianista d'origine russa -cittadino americano dal 1986 e da anni residente in Germania-chiarisce nella presentazione del disco che l'aggettivo Semplice (Plain), scelto come titolo, si riferisce alle minime strutture compositive che possono innescare creative relazioni musicali. C'è molta libera improvvisazione —sia d'impronta cameristica che sui modelli degli anni settanta-ma come ci ha abituato Nabatov non mancano brevi escursioni "tradizionali." La più esplicita è "House Party Starting" di Herbie Nichols, che conclude l'album nel pieno rispetto dell'estetica bop. Il pianista ha così modo di omaggiare uno dei suoi modelli, a cui dedicò un disco un decennio fa. I sei brani precedenti mostrano volti sempre diversi. "Ramblin' On" è una feroce improvvisazione collettiva, resa ancor più pregnante da un testo di Robertson declamato in sottofondo con voce distorta. "Cry From Hell" inizia con un libero confronto "post-free" tra gli strumenti per sfociare in un danzante tema latino, quasi un "Choro," che evidenzia l'amore del pianista per la musica tradizionale brasiliana. Il momento forse più intenso dell'album è il multiforme "Break," che si sviluppa in modo sorprendente tra austeri momenti collettivi, avvincenti assoli (Nabatov e Robertson) e solari aperture tematiche.

Angelo Leonardi


All Around Jazz June 2020

How fitting is the comparison between the music of Simon Nabatov and a Matryoshka doll? The Russian-born American's music is a nesting of not dolls but musical genres, placed one inside the other. Classically trained as a child, he can often be found in the free jazz wilds, moving easily between European and American brands of instant composing. He also has a passion for Brazilian music, chamber music, computer-interfaced sounds, and solo performance. Maybe the easiest introductions to his multi-faceted music are his quintet recordings with American jazz musicians. Before Plain, there was Last Minute Theory (Clean Feed, 2019) with Tony Malaby, Brandon Seabrook, Michael Formanek and Gerald Cleaver. Before that Nabatov released The Master And Margarita (Leo Records, 2001) with Herb Robertson, Mark Feldman, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. For Plain the pianist has reunited with Robertson and Rainey, plus added reedist Chris Speed, and bassist John Hébert. Of the seven tracks, five were composed by Nabatov, one is freely improvised, and the disc concludes with the pianist hero, Herbie Nichols' "House Party Starting." The title track "Plain," not meaning unembellished but indisputable, weaves thoroughly composed music with feral passages. What begins with an elegant duo between Speed's clarinet and Nabatov's piano opens into Robertson's muted trumpet romp and Rainey's near stochastic pounding. With Nabatov's music, what is seemingly detonated always finds its center, maintaining is coherence. Maybe it is the small gestures this music provides. "Cry From Hell" rewards the listeners' patience with the quintet's meandering. The composition flows from randomness to a Brazilian sway. "Break" works a kind of Aaron Copland Americana into the sweep of the composition, flirting with the blues and streams of orchestrated energy. The two outliers here are the collective improvisation "Ramblin' On" and Herbie Nichols' cover "House Party Starting." The former features Robertson reciting (poetry?) through a bullhorn over an oxymoronic dissonant harmony. The Nichols' track is played practically straightforward, glowing in its plain-spoken beauty. Just another doll within a doll within a doll within a doll...

Mark Corroto


Nettavisen Norway July 2020

Den russisk-amerikanske, men Tyskland-bosatte pianisten, komponisten og bandlederen Simon Nabatov både er og har ei egen stemme. Her møter vi han sammen med strålende folk fra New Yorks undergrunnsscene. Simon Nabatov (61) er født i Moskva, men hoppa av sammen med foreldrene da han var 20. I 1986 blei han amerikansk statsborger etter å ha bodd i New York noen år. Etter hvert har han gjort Köln og Tyskland til sin hjemmebane, men han har hele tida holdt nær kontakt med med NY-miljøet som han var en del av. Nabatov begynte å spille piano som 3-åring og blei raskt oppslukt av jazz og de mulighetene som bød seg innenfor det uttrykket. Det var faktisk en ganske erfaren jazzpianist, alderen tatt i betraktning, som ankom New York og USA. Etter hvert har han utvikla sitt eget uttrykk. Han har henta inspirasjon fra moderne jazz, impro, Thelonious Monk og den nesten glemte Herbie Nichols (1919-1963) - mannen som skrev «Lady Sings the Blues» blant annet - og brasiliansk musikk. På «Plain» bys det på en herlig miks av alt dette. For anledninga har Nabatov skrevet ny musikk, bortsett fra en kollektiv improvisasjon og ei Nichols-låt. Med seg har han musikere han i stor grad har jobba med tidligere: trompeteren Herb Robertson, trommeslageren Tom Rainey og tenorsaksofonist og klarinettist Chris Speed mens bassist John Hébert, som vi blant annet kjenner fra bandene til Kris Davis og Ingrid Laubrock, er førstereisgutt i Nabatov-sammenheng. Innspillinga er gjort i New Jersey i fjor sommer. Vi blir i tillegg til Nabatov-låtene også servert en Robertson-tekst - et politisk statement - som utgangspunkt for improlåta. Ellers er det løse, ganske så åpne, men samtidig med en fin melodikk som utgangspunkt for ekskursjonene i låtene til Nabatov. Det kler denne kvintetten strålende. Simon Nabatov er og har ei stemme som er vel verdt å lytte til. «Plain» kan være en fin inngang til hans spennende univers.

Tor Hammerø


Salt Peanuts May 2020

Den russiske pianisten Simon Nabatov har lenge vært en favoritt her på salt peanuts*, helt siden vi hørte han solo på jazzfestivalen i Nevers i Frankrike for mange år siden. Da spilte han i en slags katakombe med et lite publikum, og etter den opplevelsen, har undertegnede fulgt ham tett. Vi har tidligere anmeldt hans plate, «Live at the Bimhuis» (TryTone) med klarinettisten Oguz Büyukberber og trommeslageren Gerry Hemingway (anmeldt https://salt-peanuts.eu/record/ buyukberbernabatovhemingway/), «Luminous» (NoBusiness) med bassisten Barry Guy og trommeslageren Gerry Hemingway (anmeldt HER), duoplaten «Projections» (Clean Feed) med bassisten Mark Dresser (anmeldt HER) og hans kvartettplate «Last Minute Theory» med Tony Malaby (s), Brandon Seabrook (g), Michael Formanek (b) og Gerald Cleaver (dr) (anmeldt HER). Nå møter vi han i en ny sammensetning, sammen med saksofonisten og klarinettisten Chris Speed, trompeteren Herb Robertson, bassisten John Hébert og trommeslageren Tom Rainey i fem komposisjoner av Nabatov, en kollektiv improvisasjon med tekst av Robertson og «House Party Starting» fra Herbie Nicols Blue Note-innspilling, «Herbie Nichols Trio» fra 1956. Allerede fra start, i Nabatovs tittelspor, øyner vi at dette blir en reise i meditativ, men storstilt, fritt improviserende jazz. Og det er Nabatov og Speeds klarinett som åpner i denne relativt lange komposisjonen. Nabatov er født i Moskva i 1959, men har vært bosatt, mer eller mindre fast, i New York siden 1980, da han startet studiene ved Julliard. Og det er tydelig at tittelsporet på denne innspillingen viser hans klare røtter til Russland. Både i hans relativt «klassiske» pianospill og i den musikalske temperaturen i musikken, som Speed følger på en fin måte. Låten demineres på mange måter av Speedsw klarinettspill, men med Héberts og Raineys «løse» og fine spill, blir dette en spennende reise i Nabakovs musikalske univers. Og når Robertson kommer inn med mutet kornettspill, som på mane måter kan minne om Don Cherry, løfter låta seg, og beveger seg fra Moskvas store avenyer til bakgatene på Lower East Side på Manhattan. Men etter hvert fører Nabatov oss tilbake til Moskva, en relativt stille kveld, og vi er tilbake i det litt melankolske. Så fortsetter de med «Copy That», som er en relativ fri improvisasjon, me med noen melodiske føringer fra kapellmesteren, den fine balladen «Cry From Hell» «Break», og «Ramblin’ On» som er adskillig mer aggressiv og pågående hvor vi spesielt legger merke til Robertsons trompetspill og Speeds tenorsaksofonspill før vi får Nabatovs fine og melankolske ballade «Slow Thinker», før de avrunder med en swingende og deilig versjon av Nichols «House Party Starting», hvor vi egentlig får bandet i en helt ny utgave. Dette er en låt som skiller seg kraftig ut fra resten, men beviser at selv om disse musikerne er dyktige fri improvisatører, så fikser de også Nichols musikk på en strålende måte. Og kanskje neste innspilling med dette dyktige bandet skulle være en plate hvor de gjorde standarder fra slutten av 50-tallet og begynnelsen av 60-tallet, i sine helt egne og spennende versjoner. For dette er en form for jazz de har full kontroll på.

Jan Granlie