12: Live at the Bimhuis
Trytone TT 559-058

Luc Houtkamp/Simon Nabatov/Martin Blume


Leo Records CD LR 716

A cross-border variation on Cecil Taylor’s trio with Sunny Murray and Jimmy Lyon or perhaps the Alexander von Schlippenbach trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens, pianist Simon Nabatov is the weighty centre of these band configurations. But unlike the other combos which were working groups for extended periods, exhilaration, amazement and invention are mixed here since each CD captures a first time meeting.

Besides the Russian-born, keyboardist who has lived in Köln for many years, 12 was initiated by the Turkish bass clarinet and contrabass clarinetist Oğuz Büyükberber to as a meeting between the two others and American drummer Gerry Hemingway. Hemingway and Nabatov had worked together frequently, but only once previously with the Amsterdam-based reedist. Encounters is more of the same, though different. While Dortmund-based drummer Martin Blume and saxophonist Luc Houtkamp from The Hague have worked together over the years, this is the first encounter between the two and the pianist.

Taken together Encouters’ eight tracks may be twice as lengthy as 12’s single improvisation, but both configurations gel from the get-go. Büyükberber who is also involved with ethnic, notated and electronic music brings a freewheeling, non-idiomatic interface to his improvisations. Grainy and buzzing, especially on the larger instrument which sounds like an aural picture of a hippo wading across a pond, his widening timbres encourage the pianist to coagulate his chording so that his initial thrust is from the piano’s most southerly notes. Meantime Hemingway concentrates his response into the odd clip-clop, leaving the heavy lifting to the others. Never does Nabatov go beyond the bounds of good taste however. At points so-called classical sophistication remains in his playing with glissandi and lightening-stroke textural variations both accompanying and spurring on reed variations which are sometimes inclined to have a slight Ottoman curve. Rising or plunging to the challenge Büyükberber maintains a studied individuality, thrusting out spindly strained vibrations without abandoning the large horn’s usual range. Midway through the three reach a collective crescendo of off-centre variations that eventually separate into parallel gripping timbres. With the drummer leaning with a defining semi-marital beat, the pianist creating prickly harmonies and the clarinetist outputting snarling gusts, a mordant climax is attained. Without an earlier precedent the first-time trio reconstitutes jagged improv to reach a swinging groove which sustains the triple inventiveness until the conclusion.

There’s nothing as standard as swing time on Encounters, with the improvisations balanced on displays of nervous energy that seem to intensify rather than dissipate as the session evolves. Blume’s collection of weighted pumps and pops are more in the foreground than Hemingway’s patterns though, while Houtkamp, who ironically like Büyükberber, divides his time among electronics, notated music and free improv, is much more aggressive than the Turk when he has the horn in his mouth. Meanwhile Nabatov’s kinetic tremolos are likewise more aggressive than on 12. This is demonstrated on the first track, the aptly titled “Running”, which includes a frenetic display by the reedist that encompasses teeth rattling bites, glossolalia and animalistic cries. His double-toned irregular variations pull the theme every which way like an elastic band and finally reach a point of no return with screaming split tones, leaving it to Nabatov’s descending patterns and Blume’s claps and clicks to sooth the way to the ending.

From then on the three take turns setting the pace for the subsequent group compositions. Acoustically liberated, Houtkamp never misses an opportunity to expand his reed prowess, whether it’s creating house-rocking tenor saxophone licks –muted by Blume’s subtle nerve beats and cymbal rumbles – or crying multiphonics, which are paced, then lightened by Nabatov’s paced chording. Nabatov is also capable of wilder keyboard flights. He digs into the piano’s higher pitches, smacks the instrument’s wood and uses plucks and strums to source distinctive internal string configurations on “Coming [Across]”, which also features another instance of Houtkamp’s Bedlam-styled reed mumbling. But the keyboardist never closes off other avenues. Midway through “Meeting [Of]” for instance, you can hear faint traces of stride and boogie-woogie, adding a pleasing chromatic undercurrent to the others’ sometimes overwrought improvisations.

What that means is that by the time this set of instant compositions, recorded live in Köln, are brought to a close on “Facing [With]” , the initial staccato jumpiness has relaxed into a structured conclusion. References to earlier themes are suggested, yet Nabatov’s understated near-romanticism is able to smooth out the previously emphasized textural detonations. By the time the final air has been sucked from the saxophone and the last drum beat resonated, treble key plinks serve as summation and conclusion.

Either disc can be cited as a matchless example of in-the-moment improvising, with Nabatov’s key strokes the glue which prevents the sonic freedom from blasting the tunes and the trio(s) apart.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 12: 1. 21 9 12

Personnel: 12: Oğuz Büyükberber (bass and contrabass clarinet); Simon Nabatov (piano) and Gerry Hemingway (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Encounters: 1. Running [Into] 2. Coming [Across] 3. Bumping [Against] 4. Stumbling [Upon] 5. Confronting [The] Part 1 6. Confronting [The] Part 2 7. Meeting [Of] 8. Facing [With]

Personnel: Encounters: Luc Houtkamp (straight alto and tenor saxophones); Simon Nabatov (piano) and Martin Blune (drums)