Autumn Music
Leo Records CD LR 397

No better definition of musical post-modernism exists than hearing the Simon Nabatov trio work out its strategy on “Hardly Obliged”.

While Nabatov, the Russian-American pianist and American percussionist Michael Vatcher caress the smooth melody that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1940s Hollywood extravaganza, anarchistic Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger deconstructs it with harsh cello tones. On top of muted brushwork and piano cadences that lean towards the cocktail hour, Reijseger twists, burrows and squeaks his strings, produces particular staccato runs and whistles while he works. The overall effect is like watching a movie featuring a tuxedo-clad Eddy Duchin expressing a lush melody on the piano while the Marx Brothers destroy the very stage on which he’s playing.

Nabatov’s playing partners have included anarchistic insurgents like Dutch drummer Han Bennink, who also played with Reijseger in the ICP Orchestra, while Vatcher is at home in bands like Michael Braam’s All Ears. This sort of left field improvising is second nature to each of them. You can hear it on this live CD with a program that encompasses Nabatov and Reijseger originals, tunes by Herbie Nichols and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Another indication of the threesome’s command of the situation is that the band’s reimagining of “Lady Sing The Blues” is preceded by Nabatov’s “For M.F.” The former, Nichols’ most famous composition, written for Billie Holiday, segues from swing to bop, while Nabatov’s tune follows the late American pianist’s method of waiting for new tones to arrive by themselves.

Somehow, although no electronics are involved, oscillating sine waves and sweeping sequential flutters underlie “For M.F.” Most of the time the pianist gently sounds one timbre after another, except at a point where two-handed piano bass resonation meets scraped cello lines and the familiar drumstick on ride cymbal shriek.

Shorter, “Lady Sing The Blues” opens with jumpy piano chords, then lets the cellist take the lead with a moderato double timed version of the theme. Pulsating tremolo action from the pianist then encourages a hithertofore walking Reijseger to put aside the 4/4 for a pizzicato guitar-like solo. Ending by palming and clicking the piano’s highest-pitched keys, Nabatov’s seconds-long coda recapitulates the initial theme.

Throughout, the pianist’s techniques range from striking the instrument’s sides for additional percussiveness to riffing balladic chords. His soloing can be gospellish as a church organist on one tune and as overbearingly romantic as a recitalist on another. The others follow suit. Vatcher suggests new tones upfront as often as he accompanies –

while never turning the beat around – and Reijseger is as apt to stab a staccato run as decorate it with caressing filigree.

AUTUMN MUSIC’s chief drawback, however is the two-part title tune. While alive with enough dynamic piano patterning, swift cello flatulence and irregular drumbeats to keep it moving, it often seems as if the various interpolations are part of a search rather than a plan. Only the final four minutes of the second part have true resonance, where a catchy cello line extends the rhapsodic forays into the darker recesses of low-pitched piano chords.

Listeners should be prepared to wade through the slightly unfocused caustic patterns that make up the first two tracks to get to the notable creations that make up the rest of the disc.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Autumn Music Part 1 2. Autumn Music Part 2 3. For M. F. 4. Lady Sings The Blues 5. Hardly Obliged 6. The Third Stone 7. Valsa Do Porto Das Caixas

Personnel: Simon Nabatov (piano); Ernst Reijseger (cello); Michael Vatcher (drums)