Dutch+ Deutsch at the Goethe Institut

Michiel Braam and Frank Gratkowski
Live In Toronto

The cozy confines of Toronto’s Goethe Institut was the scene of the first-ever duo concert by Dutch pianist Michiel Braam and German reedist Frank Gratkowski on November 14. Ranging all over their instruments as they played, the shared history of the two dispelled any awkwardness either may have felt being alone together.

Gratkowski, best known here for his work with American drummer Gerry Hemingway, has for years been an important construct of composer Braam’s two major groups: his sextet and his 13 piece Bik Bent Braam band.

Throughout the first set, the pianist’s reliance on the darker colors of his instrument’s lower notes and the saxophonist’s sometimes squealing overblowing, often communicated with bird-like arm motions, soon settled into a rollicking sound examination that brought other piano-reed match-ups to mind.

Tempering his Monkish dissonance with double-timed, high intensity and a ratcheting left hand Braam could have been playing boogie woogie at a house rent party. Gratkowski’s gritty blusiness on alto and spotty, breathy smears on clarinet added to this, as the two produced an Albert Ammons-Pete Brown vibe. Later, when the pianist sputtered out themes that could have been half-remembered pop songs or anthems, the resulting smooth interplay with the altoman referenced Johnny Hodges work with Duke Ellington. Introducing tougher, resounding left handed pressure, from time to time, Braam could have been Lennie Tristano and Gratkowski Lee Konitz.

Unexpectedly and extemporaneously accompanying the projection of Snow Cones, a Frank Davey short which opened the second half of the performance, the slower tempo made both men’s playing more lyrical. Later on, with his clarinet pointed straight at the ceiling, Gratkowski unleashed watery phrasing, a contrast to his earlier flutter-tongued altissimo work. Similarly, Braam soon reverted to house rent mode, flat-palming bass clef runs with additional power.

By the end of the night, as the sounds meandered from aggressive, near atonality to mellow song suggestions that exuded modern romanticism, the enthusiastic audience was convinced it had witnessed something as impressive as it was unique.

Ken Waxman


November 15, 2004