Etienne Nillesen / Akiko Akiko / Pauline Buss / Salim Javaid / Constantin Herzog / Elisabeth Coudoux / Phillip Zoubek / Matthias Muche / Angelika Sheridan / Leonhard Huhn / Carl Ludwig Hübsch

August 22, 2020

Other Kinds of Blue


Simon Nabatov Septet

Time Labyrinth

Leo Records CD LR 881

Advanced dissertations in extended forms distinguish these authoritative sessions by two Köln-based composers. Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov and Freiburg-born tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch conceptualize earnestly expressive sounds to attain dissimilar goals.

Nabatov, who has played with stylists including Nils Wogram and Mark Dresser, concvenes a chamber-music-style septet of close collaborators to interpret six brand-new compositions based on different conceptions of time. Hübsch, whose affiliations have ranged from Wolter Wierbos to Pierre-Yves Martel, assembles 10 associates to help work through a more complex supposition: how to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the appearance of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue LP without playing any of the music from the disc. Instead 11 of the dozen tunes – the final track is a Davis line – were developed over a year during which musicians wrote pieces based on the album’s spirit. In the end the tubaist composed four tracks; two each were composed by soprano saxophonist Salim Javaid or cellist Elisabeth Coudoux; and one each by violinist Akiko Ahrendt; alto saxophonist Leonhard Huhn; and trombonist Matthias Muche. The other participants are pianist Philip Zoubek, flutist Angelika Sheridan, drummer Etienne Nillesen, bassist Constantin Herzog, with Pauline Buss adding her viola to the final track, Davis’ “Blue in Green”.

Besides a long history with the pianist, the septet members on Time Labyrinth are also an imposing crew. Shannon Barnett plays trombone; Melvyn Poore, tuba; Matthias Schubert tenor saxophone; Dieter Manderscheld, bass and Hans W. Koch, synthesizer. Frank Gratkowski not only plays alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute, but created the Max/MSP patch seen on every musician’s monitor as digital conductor to preserve the time grid of Nabatov’s exploratory compositions. Although both CDs are undeniably post-modern, descriptions of the processes involved are more formidable than the intriguing music.

The Nabatov session for example moves from an introduction of near silence to create themes which include individual instrumental extensions inside suggestions of moderated menace. Some are moody and layered with the likes of mid-range flute expressions, oscillated buzzes and string resonation that elaborate tones without reaching resolution. A couple such as the extended “Repeated”, spangle an essay in tone suspension with vigorous clarinet trills, piano glissandi and even cornucopia-wide guttural tuba snarls without upsetting the unfolding horizontal action.

While this delicacy can be appreciated the full extent of Nabatov’s skill is better displayed on those tunes which are more energetic than enervated such as “Metamorph” and “Right Off”. The first charges out of the gate with a variation of speedy, high volume continuum with horn swoops and flutters, keyboard clicks and later Aylerian, reed-biting screams from Schubert, plunger guffaws from Barnett. However the pianist’s chill exposition prevents a descent into sonic chaos, as a bit of flowery silent-movie-house-like accompaniment is strengthened into pressured clips that join with synthesizer whines for concentrated connections. A 12-tone mash up, “Right Off” works extended pauses into a narrative that otherwise is split between a yearning trombone story telling with deeply felt moderated grace notes and double tonguing and a gradual turn to micro toughness. Granulated telephone exchange-like noises from the synthesizer, reed puffs and hard piano key clipping is finally subsumed into a concentrated exposition from all the players followed by a brief coda of downwards squirming piano lines.

With the final “Choral” cleverly arranged so that this piano showcase frames the showy-to- simple keyboard expressions in undulating pitches, the layer finally separate for an intense alto saxophone solo. With another layered coda that is as much hopeful as it is hymn-like it appears in this context that Nabatov has demonstrated his mature compositional skills.

Creative composition is also highlighted on Other Kinds of Blue. But here the conception and creativity is divided among more than one sound arranger. Despite the many composers, a similarity among the themes does exist. In the main the idea is impressionism rather than straight-ahead expression, with the track designed to convey a mood rather than maneuver to a particular destination. This is especially evident during the first half of the CD as the emphasis seems to shift to a recital ready near formalism. For example the pulsations on Coudoux’s “All Move” emphasizes an arc of modulated reed tones succeeded by heavy string section pushes with only intervallic pressure from the tuba breaking up the sawing strings. As well Muche’s “Underblue” is a reductionist statement that intertwines solid piano chords, angled string stops and high-pitched brass timbres beneath a lightly accented low-pitched flute line.

Sheridan’s flute wisps are also put to distinctive use on Hübsch’s “Freifield”. A mutation of “Freddie Freeloader”, with Nillesen’s note perfect evocation of that tune’s drum intro, the transformation shifts between flute peeps and reed sucks with watery puffs pushing the narrative forward. Finally the piece strengthens as dynamic glissandi and col legno slaps from the strings pile up the chords that are only relived by tongue slaps and drum pops. Ahrendt’s “Kinds of Blue” turns “So What” to her own aims with barely there glissandi from toe horn extending into additional swing squeezes and repeated swaying phrasing from Zoubek. Climax occurs as the horns’ canon transforms into a continuous drone propelled by all the players. Finally the squeaking strings, reed peeps and bubbling tuba flatulence transforms the cellist’s “So How” into a multiphonic Mixmaster of brass plunger tones and string stretches that inflates to a distinctive extent that foreground and background are non-existent.

A rethinking of the project Other Kinds of Blue is a more valuable listening experience than any Miles Davis recreation. Along with Time Labyrinth it also confirms that high standard of musicianship as composers and performers among Köln improvisers.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Time: 1. Waves 2. Metamorph 3. Reader 4. Right Off 5. Repeated 6. Choral

Personnel: Time: Shannon Barnett (trombone); Melvyn Poore (tuba); Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute); Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone); Simon Nabatov (piano); Dieter Manderscheld (bass); Hans W. Koch (synthesizer)

Track Listing: Other: 1. Co Catches 2. Freifield 3. All Move 4. Two Freds are Free 5. Studio Chatter 6. Underblue 7. 3dk 01 8. 3dk 02 9. Kinds of Blue 10, Flamenco Catches 11. So How 12. Blue in Green*

Personnel: Other: Matthias Muche (trombone); Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba, voice); Salim Javaid (soprano saxophone); Leonhard Huhn (alto saxophone): Angelika Sheridan (flutes): Philip Zoubek (piano); Akiko Ahrendt (violin); Pauline Buss (viola)*; Elisabeth Coudoux(cello): Constantin Herzog (bass); Etienne Nillesen (extended snare drum)