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RT 9317 (2001)

Frank Gratkowski Quartet



Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone,
clarinet, bass and contrabass clarinet)
Wolter Wierbos (trombone)
Dieter Manderscheid (bass)
Gerry Hemingway (drums)

1. Marsch 8:47
2. Annäherungen 10:00
3. Spiel 5:09
4. Scherzo II 5:12
5. Rotation 5:39
6. de profundis 13:48
7. Kollaps II 14:04

All compositions by Frank Gratkowski

Recorded at Loft Köln / Germany
May 4, 2000 by Wolfgang Stach

Chaque tableau est comme une improvisation de Jazz.
Reflet d'une musique intérieure qui participe
au chant collectif du grand "JE SUIS"...
Le Poète s'exprime par des paroles
et le Peintre "dit la Vie" avec la Lumière...
Objets inanimés, animés, humains...
ne sommes nous pas lumière ! ...

Jason Bivins - ONE FINAL NOTE

January 2002Reedist and composer Frank Gratkowski is one of the brightest lights in the music today, a compelling example both of its current strength and of its future promise. Though his profile in the United States is still depressingly low, he has been touring like mad in recent years—as a solo artist, with his shape-shifting trio (often in the company of Gerry Hemingway and bassists like Michael Formanek or John Lindberg), and with the Georg Graewe Quartet (featuring Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake). His discography is also slowly being discovered, as listeners dig into his work with Michael Moore, Simon Nabatov, and others. But lest we forget, Gratkowski is also a composer of note—he's given us a powerful reminder of this in Kollaps.In terms of instrumentation and the mode of the compositions, the most obvious parallel is the mid-70s Anthony Braxton group with George Lewis (and hey, Gerry Hemingway is the drummer here). Certainly, Gratkowski is deeply influenced by Brax—both his alto style and his composing are marked by this influence—but he is certainly not bound by this stylistic debt. The combination of quirky intervallic lines with out-romanticism is here, as is the tension between glorious structure and unfettered improvisation. The open interplay between all four musicians on "Marsch" is a fine example of this, as they dance in mid-air, all the while inexorably pulled to the theme which crops up at the midway point. Gratkowski leads the way through "Annaherungen" with his limber bass clarinet, charting an angular line through the quirky pulse track as Wolter Wierbos adds color and contrast behind him. "Spiel" and "Scherzo II" are nervous, jittery tracks—the horns shine as the dart and flit about (Wierbos is certainly amongst the more imaginative and technically gifted trombonists of his generation), but the agility and thoughtfulness of the rhythm section impresses here (particularly the under-recorded Dieter Manderscheid). "De Profundis" is a dark, dirge-like essay in long tones, breaths, open spaces, and texture. It clears the aural palate before the extraordinary closer, "Kollaps II". This is as close as Gratkowski gets to giving himself some straight up blowing space, and he is incendiary on alto. There is considerable freedom for all four players through the piece's first 2/3, but they converge for a stunning unison ending. Kollaps is heady, invigorating, thoughtful music. It's one of the finest releases I've heard this year.

One Final Note

François Couture - All Music Guide

Simply put, Kollaps is one of Frank Gratkowski's finest albums. This CD features the Frank Gratkowski Quartet as it was in May 2000: Wolter Wierbos on trombone, Dieter Manderscheid on bass, and drummer Gerry Hemingway. The saxophonist/clarinetist wrote all of the seven pieces. The style arches back to free jazz forms. "Marsch" puts a twist to the head-solo-head format, adding a funny limping march theme in the middle. "Annaherungen" is a swinging free form number with lots of unisons between trombone and clarinet. "De Profundis" provides a pause. Dark on the verge of depressive, it lingers on sustained and out-of-tune notes. "Scherzo II" is a lot more spirited and makes extensive use of Wierbos' very entertaining style — it comes close to the music of Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms. "Spiel" ("Game") goes into a similar direction, as the musicians scatter around bits of the main theme for the listener to collect and piece together. Highlights abound, and all four musicians shine, Manderscheid being the surprise here — we need to hear more from him. The album comes to an end with "Kollaps II," a strong number where rhythm section and lead players go their separate ways at some point, coming back for the powerful finale. Kollaps is a delightful record. Very strongly recommended.

(All Music Guide)


Steven Loewny, Cadence Magazine,
January 2002

No longer is the piano-less quartet an oddity, and neither is the simple instrumentation of sax/clarinet, trombone, bass and drums. Gratkowski and colleagues are veterans of the free improvisation scene, their individual contributions and reputations are well established. That said, Kollaps is one of the finest group recordings of the genre, due both to the detailed writing skills of Gratkowski and to the outstanding performances from each member of the quartet. Through the years, the small Red Toucan label has issued several recordings that blend the free Jazz aesthetic with rollicking tunefulness, and this release does the same. Influences as diverse as George Russell, Carla Bley and William Breuker abound, though none is immediately apparent. The welcome emphasis on abstract melody and elaborate arrangements is resoundingly successful due to Gratkowski's considerable skills. He knows how and when to let his soloists loose with strong backing from the rest of the band, without devolving to variations on a blowing session. On "Annäherungen", to cite a random example, Gratkowski's alto romps exuberantly, stretching across boundaries, after which Wierbos runs up and down his slide with remarkable agility, showing why he is considered such an extraordinary stylist. Hemmingway is at his best, too, with a compact, focused effort, sporting nothing short of near-perfect technique, uniquely suited to the group sound. Hemingway's solo develops concisely, so that the listener's interest never wanes. Gratkowski returns to one of his bass clarinets with a more subdued though no less fascinating take, while Dieter Manderscheid adds critical support. The latter is much in demand as a bassist, and it is easy to see why, as his tasteful, elastic playing is always perfectly in on text. The real engine of this session, though, is Gratkowski, whose wicked, humor-filled writing not only sets the stage, but also makes this one of the most interesting and successful free improvisational releases this year.

Cadence Magazine