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Friday, November 24, 2023

Simon Nabatov 3 + 2 - Verbs (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Cologne-based pianist/ composer Simon Nabatov enjoys a broad musical practice, rooted in a combination of fluency and openness, whether venturing into Latin American music, the repertoire of Herbie Nichols, setting texts of early Russian modernist poetry or, as is the case here on Verbs, expanding his trio with bassist Stefan Schönegg and drummer Dominik Mahnig to a quintet with Leonhard Huhn on alto saxophone and clarinet and Philip Zoubek on synthesizers in a quest for committed and complex movement. The cues here are a series of titles, each of them a call to a significant action, all essential acts with which we might fight, dream or struggle toward achievement, meaning or grace. The music, thus concerned with existential acts, is, inevitably and necessarily, largely improvised.

The verbs of the track titles – “Pray”, “Race”, “Reveal”, “Breathe”, “Converge”, “Evolve”, “Float” – are keys to the moods of the pieces, all collectively improvised, but for “Breathe”: “Pray” is longing meditation, “Race” dynamic, hyperkinetic movement, “Reveal” sunlit romance. The significance of the titles is direct, they are prods to mood, but the character of the improvisations is spectacular. Each musician is a virtuoso listener, garnering, anticipating material from his co-workers, and responding as a virtuoso of empathy and stimuli. Whether it’s slow, medium or up-tempo, each piece is a weave of voices entering with germane asides, supportive nods or fresh textural elements, coming and going in a shifting, contrapuntal choir. The longest track, “Converge”, approaching 12 minutes, is filled with a dark power, initially marked by diverse percussion and increasingly driven by an engine-room roar of synthesizer.

The composed “Breathe”, oddly enough, is perhaps the most manic and slightly comic: an explosion of tight-knit bits of electronics, piano and drums, all given to a certain tendency to whiz-bang, a sudden redirecting shock, often comic, that finds companions in the fluttering piano of “Evolve” and the rhythmic knotting of the concluding “Float”. Every individual voice in the quintet is a crucial creative component, whether coming in and out of focus or shining at length in one piece or another, whether it’s Zoubek and Mahnig on “Converge”, Schönegg on “Race” or Huhn on “Float”. Nabatov is consistently brilliant here, whether playing piano or assembling a band, every track testifying to the necessary energy of verbs.


Shaun said...

Nabatov is an unsung hero of the music, and one of the most consistently interesting players/bandleaders working today.
'No Kharms Done' was one of my favourite releases last year, and this sounds like a must-buy.