Over the years, reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Frank Gratkowski has formed a series of potent combinations with other musicians. His first was with Georg Graewe in 1992 before he went on to fruitful collaborations with Gerry Hemingway, Wilbert DeJoode, Michael Vatcher and Herb Robertson, among others. Gratkowski has the ingrained ability to turn the presence of his musical partners into a creative force that exemplifies the art of improvisation, and does it once more with pianist Jacob Anderskov on Ardent Grass, which was recorded live at The Loft in Köln, Germany.
Anderskov has his career in full gear leading a variety of bands. He is an inventor whose music throbs with an underlying passion and enterprise. Even as he leads his own groups, Anderskov has involved himself with players that share his sense of adventure, like Jim Black, Cuong Vu and Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Gratkowski and Anderskov build a compelling chronicle as they traverse the compositions all of which were written by the former. The interplay between the two is inspired, with the contrast of pulse and mood adding depth to texture.
The empathy is in immediate evidence on ``Narrative`` as they weave spells of animated interaction with flowing ensemble passages. The rolling piano is thrust against trajectories from the alto saxophone just as much as single note runs are clasped by melody and free falling whorls from the horn. The ambience is electrifying.
"Rasa" exemplifies the fine balance between composition and improvisation. Gratkowski makes use of the clarinet to refine the beauty of the melody, letting his notes seep deep into the refrain and linger. Anderskov infers the dynamics with pensive interludes that replace a host of thunderous chords.
Melody is at its most pronounced on "Sound Check," where Grastkowski comes out swinging. His is a modulated approach but the sway is undeniably catchy. He adds some fleet adjuncts that extend the frame and opens the door for Anderskov to instill lithe movements without rushing. In doing so he underlines his skills as an innovator with vision.
Gratkowski and Anderskov acknowledge thematic constructs before they turn them inside out. It's yet another rich association that determines the force of improvised music.
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