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Frank Gratkowski Trio: Quicksand

Derek Taylor By

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The three Germans on this disc are dedicated to upholding the tradition of that expressionism in improvised music. Over the course of four lengthy compositions, which seem demarcated more in the interest of providing convenient entry points rather than delineating drastic shifts in direction, they do just that. Lovens is perhaps the best known among them. Through his longtime associations with Evan Parker and Alexander von Schlippenbach he has hammered out reputation as one of the most versatile improvisers in the world. But what Graewe and Gratkowski lack in the way of far flung notoriety is more than compensated for by their considerable instrumental skills all of which are in evidence in concert with Lovens.

Far more than the sum of its three parts this trio evidences a collective sound of pandemic proportions. Gratkowski’s sibilant clarinet, Lovens somersaulting drums that snowball into concise clatter of ‘selected and unselected’ neorhythmic constituents and Graewe’s worried key clusters which rebound from angular orientations of harmony to bursts of inveigling freefall, all swirl into a unified spiral of sonorous elements. “Showers” rolls to fore like a cottony chain of rain-weighted clouds that drop their cargoes in carefully timed blasts of dissonance. Between these eruptions the three players drift in and out trading moments of near silence with episodes of haunting ethereality. Lovens’ Herculean command of his kit is in full effect here as his bowed cymbals create a forest of harmonic icicles tread upon delicately by Graewe’s dark chords. Gratkowski’s shift to bass clarinet in the twilight of the piece also compounds its caliginous nature.

“Green Fuse” is more overtly explosive from the onset. Gratkowski’s alto mixes moments of heart-on-sleeve melody with gnarled gesticulating knots of overblown dissonance before dropping out and allowing Graewe and Lovens an intricate repartee of olivaceous imaginings. Later things simmer down into a persipacious discussion led by Gratkowski’s silver-tongued clarinet and spiced by Loven’s incessant texturing. The other two pieces favor a similar itinerary beating a path deep into the abstract and expressionistic territories accessible only by musicians such as these who welcome and even thrive on the opportunity to test both their own faculties as well as those of their listeners. Very little is served up in a direct fashion and obliquities abound, making this disc a minefield of mysteries waiting to be detonated by the aural footfalls of adventurous ears.


Track Listing: Showers/ Green Fuse/ Crooked Rose/ Second Coming.

Personnel: Frank Gratkowski- alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Georg Graewe- piano; Paul Lovens- percussion, singing saw.

Title: Quicksand | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Meniscus


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