Frank Gratkowski/Georg Gräwe/Paul Lovens

September 3, 2001

Meniscus Records MNSCS 007

Usually thought of as members of so-called EuroImprov that’s supposed to take as much from New music as Afro American jazz, pianist Georg Gräwe and multi-reedman Frank Gratkowski appear to more and more be linked to the ongoing tradition of free jazz.

Perhaps it’s because of the association they have with American musicians. Both have organized different touring groups that include drummer Gerry Hemingway, while, Gräwe also has many Chicago contacts, having spent several months living in that city a few years ago.

More likely it’s because in resolving their unique musical identities the two have decided that these sorts of improvised sounds are what they prefer — and do best. Certainly this CD, recorded with fellow German, drummer Paul Lovens, is a choice example of the expanding improv tradition. In fact, one could compare it favorably with sessions recorded by Lovens long standing trio with German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and British saxophonist Evan Parker. Despite the session’s title, though, none of the musicians are ever near sinking into the fatal quicksand of unconnected improvisations.

Certainly these four instant compositions recorded in Cologne a couple of years ago, pinpoint the strong rapport the reedist and pianist have developed in the almost 10 years they’ve been working together in both duo and larger settings. Gräwe’s work is more consistent, depending for the most part on laying down a carpet of free flowing whole notes, seemingly circling around the tunes as he dots the ‘i’s and crosses the ‘t’s of Gratkowski’s improvisations.

It’s another matter all together for the reed player. He seems to have developed a different persona for each of his horns. On dark-hued clarinet, he exploits its woody properties, creating a liquid, clear, almost -“legit” tone, but one that is occasionally as breathy as a teenage girl on her first date. Sometimes he’ll introduce a few reed squeaks on the black stick, but that’s nothing like the protracted howling and whooping that comes from his alto saxophone.

What he produces on that horn is what was called Energy Music in the 1960s. Usually, as well, the pianist’s seemingly meandering keyboard explorations and the percussionist’s heavy bass drum accents positively compliment these explosions. When bass clarinet does make its appearance, its tone ranges from legato to growled multiphonics, a veritable half sibling to each of the other woodwinds.

As for Lovens, he’s been in the thick of improv grab bags like this since the early 1970s. Over the years he’s developed the versatility to back such theatrical performers as American guitarist Eugene Chadbourne and Italian altoist Mario Schiano as well as more cerebral improvisers like Canadian flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler and Parker with the same competent sang froid. Master of the well-placed percussive emphasis at any tempo, speed or volume, he functions throughout as a veteran team member, though it is hard to discern the contribution of his singing saw. All in all Quicksand is a memorable example of modern German unification.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1.Showers 2.Green fuse 3.Crooked rose 4.Second coming

Personnel: Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Georg Gräwe (piano); and Paul Lovens (percussion and singing saw)