Click here to [close]

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Brandon Seabrook & Simon Nabatov - Voluptuaries (Leo, 2021) ****½

By Stuart Broomer

Chuck Berry once famously opined, “I have no kick against modern jazz, unless they try to play it too darn fast, and change the beauty of the melody, until they sound just like a symphony.” I think differently. I can love a languid Lester ballad or a glacial Ayler dirge, but I’m also delighted listening to music that’s as fast as possible in as many ways as possible. Listening to Art Tatum, it’s hard not to imagine a young Charlie Parker’s listening, working as a dishwasher at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack to hear Art Tatum, and hearing the whole panoply: Tatum, counterrhythms of clanking dishes, kitchen door mutes, cash register, customers, waiters, bartenders, all the fractional beats and collisions as they might have filtered into BirdMind, sorting out the randomness of it all.

Last year pianist Simon Nabatov released Last Minute Theory, an excellent quintet session of his compositions with Tony Malaby, Michael Formanek, Gerald Cleaver and Brandon Seabrook. It was fine music, with its own edges, but listening to it, I wanted to hear more of Seabrook’s edgy guitar lines with Nabatov, preferably in a wholly improvised setting. Voluptuaries is that CD: Seabrook and Nabatov are both nano-second improvisers, changing direction or inserting interstitial counter lines and commentary in the quickest lines. Seabrook’s guitar might suggest the techniques of surf guitarist supreme Dick Dale and his Middle Eastern picking roots or Eugene Chadbourne on banjo or guitar; Nabatov grew up in demanding Russian academies and furthered his technique playing post-bop jazz.

The music here isn’t all high-speed, but even dreamscapes and ballads are informed by the sudden aside, the unlikely insertion or shift in direction. It’s dynamic, sometimes hyper-active music that can suggests a particle accelerator, with the phrase “sudden and unexpected” applicable at every turn. The opening “Daggers” has them intersecting at oblique angles, throwing off overlapping abstract runs and sudden shifts in dynamics with occasional shocks in timbre that can suggest prepared guitar or piano or involuntary body noises. “Who Never Dies” has tightly picked guitar eruptions tunneling up through the piano runs, with quick shifts to sustain-pedal gossamer piano and bursts of guitar-pedal noise, before they all fade into quarter-tone mystery

Slowing down the tempo is usually accompanied by disorientations of tempo or pitch. “Dust Storms” turns from pure piano reverie into reverberating tremolo guitar, still stretching dreamward, but there will be unpredictable sonic intrusions and sudden, just lightly jarring adventures in pitch. On “Squalid Simplicities” there are reactive materials on the piano strings, multiplying and altering Nabatov’s notes, but Seabrook is still feeding into it, fast-picked runs packed in amongst the piano sounds. While Seabrook’s guitar frequently sounds barely amplified, he also can summon up electronic tones that sound like Bronx cheers. There are playgrounds, carnivals and several haunted houses here‒usually comic‒and frequently developed narrative evolutions: “Spirit of the Staircase,” for example involves numerous chases and several disguises, usually assumed by Seabrook: his sudden sonic eruptions, almost musique concrete, function like sound effects in an ancient radio drama.

There’s genuine joy and playfulness here, often at warp speed, part of the appeal of these strange soundscapes and kinetic episodes.