Simon Nabatov / Gareth Lubbe / Ben Davis

December 17, 2018


Leo Records CD LR 826

Akita Sakata/Simon Nabatov/Takashi Seo/Darren Moore

Not Seeing is a Flower

Leo Records CD LR 843

From his base in Köln, Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov has built up an enviable discography partnering with many musicians on both sides of the notated/improvised divide at that German city’s The Loft and elsewhere. Two of his most recent CDs couldn’t be more dissimilar. Close to so-called contemporary music, the six Situations are the pianist’s compositions interpreted by a trio of himself, British cellist Ben Davis, who has worked with Ingrid Laubrock’s International octet; and South African violist Gareth Lubbe, who was in the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. As antithetical as sauerkraut is to sushi, Not Seeing is a Flower was created on a South-Asian tour two years later. Recorded in Chiba, Japan, the half-dozen tracks are fully in the Free Jazz/Free Music axis, with the pianist working with the group in which he toured: Australian drummer Darren Moore, Tokyo-bases bassist Takashi Seo and venerable Japanese Free Jazz pioneer Akira Sakata, who plays alto saxophone, clarinet, percussion and vocalizes.

Visceral and ecstatic, the Japanese suite begins with sparse key patterning and harsh string sweeps from the bassist until Sakata’s yowling and spitting reed patterns gooses the action to the extent that Nabatov is soon pushed into pseudo Ragtime key patterning to match the saxophonist’s great swaths of irregular vibrations and echoing split tones. By “Uncoil” the appropriately titled mid-point, this intimidating sequence finds each player moving the narrative sharply upwards with percussive strung slaps from Seo, pitter-patter drum beats and the saxophonist bending as many timbres aurally as the pianist does through soundboard rumbles, mixed with swift glissandi, The riposte arrives on the subsequent “Ritual” as Sakata vocalized an assemblage of blood-curdling and guttural mumbles and yowls, which are positioned New Thing-like atop Moore’s febrile bell-ringing and triple stopped patterns from the bassist. A sudden turn to coloratura clarinet tones, spur Nabatov’s previously almost distracted comping to vigorous two-handed tremolo, figuratively moving the exposition from concentrated to dispersed.

What remains is “Abscond”, the climatic, almost 15-minute finale, which takes on an unexpected Blues-Bebop casing, with the saxophonist absconding with elongated Earl Bostic-like R&B echoes, while hard plops from the bassist and quicksilver chording from the pianist torque the piece still further to the extent that Nabatov’s arpeggiated runs are soon matching the saxophonist note for note and tone for tone. Narrowing the reed output to split tones then unaccented air to complement Nabatov’s subsequent inner string plucking, Sakata and the others return the experimental overlay that defined the introduction with a finale that signals continuation as much as conclusion.

The continuation on Situations is to the still-extant compositional heritage, but more nuanced since it’s mixed with improvisation and is firmly in the post-modern tradition. Nabatov’s flowing arpeggios reflect the Romantic mores, while the sul pontucello whistles and drags on their instruments’ strings from Davis and Lubbe reflect a more angular modernism. Two-thirds of the way through the introductory “Unfold-Fold” all three lines overlap to create a perfect pseudo-chamber étude with ingenious harmonic overtones that unravel the theme once again with high-frequency keyboard syncopation and spiccato pushes from the eight strings.

From that point on the five remaining suite sequences move continuously from polyphonic Rite of Spring-like turbulence with splayed and rasping string motifs plus high energy keyboard pounding. Elsewhere, as on “Stern Looks”, the interface is reversed with Nabatov’s chording metronome-like and percussively as Davis and Lubbe unite for unfolding, whining pseudo-romantic surges. Moving among the piano’s waterfall harmonies or focused key picks and pecks are cello and viola motifs that encompass flying spiccato and jerky string splats at one extreme to gentle pulls at the other.

Widened through tremolo string stopping and powerful piano glissandi, the climatic “Meta Morph” ends the suite with a binding of variable tones from all three, String sweeps and contrasting dynamics from the piano allay the kinetic sequence into a moderato regularized ending.

Nabatov’s talents allow him to not neglect his so-called classical training when involved in free-form improvisation as on the Japanese-recorded CD; or add the freedom of pure improvisation to more formal strictures as on the German-created one. Both paths are equally notable as are these CDs.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Seeing: 1. Surge 2. Retreat 3. Uncoil 4. Ritual 5. Resolve 6. Abscond

Personnel: Seeing: Akira Sakata (alto saxophone, clarinet. vocals and percussion); Simon Nabatov (piano); Takashi Seo (bass) and Darren Moore (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Situations: 1. Unfold-Fold 2. Reverie 3. Stern Looks 4. Sunrise Twice 5. Temper Issues 6. Meta Morph

Personnel: Situations: Simon Nabatov (piano); Gareth Lubbe (viola) and Ben Davis (cello)