Dusted Reviews

Frank Gratkowski - Loft Exil V

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Frank Gratkowski

Album: Loft Exil V

Label: Leo

Review date: Jan. 10, 2005

The Loft Exil summits have been taking place for many years – though not entirely regularly – at Köln’s famous LOFT venue, home to many fantastic concerts (and not least to some of Gratkowski’s own finest moments). Mr. Gratkowski – the extraordinary reedist and composer – has been at the center of many of these events and, as he is finally beginning to garner some richly deserved praise and recognition, it seems fitting that Leo has documented the entirety of his most recent gathering of improvising heavyweights (from June 2003).

For these sessions, Gratkowski almost always chooses to improvise freely – rather than run through some of his own knotty, idiosyncratic compositions – and that is the case on this two-disc whopper. His decision to play two massive, hour-plus slabs of music rather than to work in (relatively) condensed forms is a new twist. There is the potential for danger in this approach: frequent treading of water; the collective play can come off like a barrage; things can get shaggy.

Happily, this group – Gratkowski with his full complement of reeds, Tobias Delius on tenor and clarinet (on disc two), Herb Robertson on trumpet, Wolter Weirbos on trombone, along with bassists Dieter Manderscheid and Wilbert DeJoode, and drummers Gerry Hemingway and Michael Vatcher – manages mostly to avoid these traps. This is doubtless due in part to the fact that Gratkowski’s long-standing quartet (with Weirbos, Manderscheid, and Hemingway) locks things down at the heart of this music.

It’s unclear exactly how much composed material was used for these two long concerts. There’s not really any thematic material, but many of the groupings, the dramatic shifts, and so forth sound at least conducted (a strategy Gratkowski favors in large ensemble settings). Indeed, on the second disc – where Delius’ gruff, burnished voice provides a nice contrast to Gratkowski’s tart playing – there are passages for twinned percussion or strings which sound plotted out, in addition to the rising and falling of the horns and the occasional surfacing of some of Gratkowski’s favorite rhythmic strategies. And because of the close listening and sympathetic playing, the music occasionally feels close to the magic conjured up by Gerry Hemingway’s great quintet of the 1990s, with DeJoode playing Reijseger to Manderscheid’s Dresser.

But like all such configurations, these long concerts (and what sound like a couple of encores, long relaxing codas, on the second disc) are highly episodic. The collective personnel have enough sense to lay out, to resist simple thrashing away, to give time and space to multiple subgroup possibilities. Between the brash fortissimo sections and the small studies in tiny noises, there are quartets, trios, and even occasionally duos (such as the splendid percussion duet in the middle of the concert). But of all the distinct voices in this ensemble, in many ways it’s the mischievous Robertson – with his vast arsenal of smears, splatters and brays – who keeps it real, able to at one moment fit cozily into the chamber-improv vibe familiar to the players and listeners in Loft’s musical universe, while in the next shrilly and gleefully mucking it all up. He and Wierbos also make fantastic partners, their pairing every bit as exciting as Gratkowski and Delius.

With 140 minutes of music, a blow-by-blow account is neither possible nor desirable. There is plenty of cool repose and striking heat here, gloriously rambunctious passages leavened by abstract reserve (although the fire, with ear-splitting altissimo doing battle with twinned rhythm, will be more compelling to most). This is a rich feast for fans of European improv.

By Jason Bivins

Other Reviews of Frank Gratkowski


Read More

View all articles by Jason Bivins

Find out more about Leo

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.