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Simon Nabatov - A Few Incidences

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Artist: Simon Nabatov

Album: A Few Incidences

Label: Leo

Review date: Feb. 12, 2006

Simon Nabatov is a dazzling jazz pianist whose insane technique and compositional creativity have long been matched by an intriguing tendency to synthesize genres (and not just musical ones). Having made his reputation playing in the trio format with Mark Helias and Tom Rainey, Nabatov has since the late 1990s branched out to experiment with text-based projects. His initial foray was with Joseph Brodsky’s Nature Morte, followed up by the splendid variations on Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Here he appropriates the texts of Russian poet Daniil Kharms, setting them to fascinating, complex music with the aid of vocalist Phil Minton (who’s at his best on these kinds of projects), reedist/flautist Frank Gratkowski, trombonist Nils Wogram, cellist Ernst Reijseger, bassist Matt Penman, drummer Michael Sarin, and wild card Cor Fuhler on live electronics and keyolin. Now that’s a helluva band.

The ensemble passages are as fine as ever, brimming with the rich contrapuntal language that is such a delightful part of Nabatov’s playing (and which is reflected in his compositions too). Consider, for example, the declamatory pulse track that evolves slowly from “And That’s All,” the wending lines of “An Encounter,” or the occasional bluesy abstractions that waft up from the skittering improv passages. Further, Nabatov’s writing includes more playful settings for text, taking perhaps better advantage of Minton’s capabilities than even the fine Nature Morte. The unpredictable rhythms and sudden shifts in these pieces are rooted in Kharms’ musings, and there’s a real freshness to the sound. Despite this, however, I found myself spending far more time concentrating on the sound of Minton’s voice than the texts: his frenzied glossolalia is complemented wonderfully by the other musicians, and the richness of these colors pull me away from the words themselves.

Still, the nine pieces each brim with specific feelings, as with the elegiac “Kalindov” or the gorgeous “The Start of a Very Nice Summer’s Day,” which overflows with joy and lyricism during a jaw-dropping passage for Wogram and Minton. But while it’s exhilarating to hear this band in full voice, Nabatov has taken care to ensure that – even with an expanded group – he provides ample room for sub-groupings to flourish. It’s here where the band really mixes it up, blending barnyard cacophony with refined bagatelles. Of these sub-groupings, those involving Fuhler, Minton, and Gratkowski are particularly satisfying, though one highlight is surely Reijseger’s cello in the lovely chamber excursus “On Equilibrium.” Oddly enough, Nabatov doesn’t seem overly concerned with giving himself space for expression – though he does pop up regularly, crashing and spiky and flowing all at once – but rather seems intent on establishing continuity between the disparate elements of this music, something he does expertly. That the 80 minutes is so compelling and leaves such a powerful impression is a tribute to Nabatov’s skill and his importance.

By Jason Bivins

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