Gratkowski - Anderskov
Frank Gratkowski – alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
All About Jazz - Jerry D'Souza
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.
Nic Jones - All About Jazz
The reeds-piano duo is hardly overdone within the recorded canon, but then neither has it been as rare or unusual as some lineups. This particular duo is apparently not unaware of this, and there's a personality to its work that's entirely its own.
There's a little of Anthony Braxton about Frank Gratkowski's alto sax playing on the opening "Narrative" but not enough to distract the ear from the profundity of the music-making. Pianist Jacob Anderskov's touch is, by turns, delicate and marked by Cecil Taylor-like intensity, but happily that name serves only as a point of reference. The duo proves itself to be remarkably attuned, and that's quite an achievement in itself, but what's more notable still is the way in which the music is repeatedly resolved, with both men sensing, as one, when and where the dynamics should be applied.
By comparison, the title track is ruminative and fraught, but both men know that any pondering this might provoke has no more than a momentary function. Not a moment seems to pass without being marked by some musical development, but those developments prove to be but links in a much greater chain, given the musicians' abilities. When Anderskov nails rolling figures rife with momentum, Gratkowski is right there with him, and the result covers the ground with nary a faltering step.
On clarinet, Gratkowski exhibits an almost classically correct tone, but the uses he puts it to result in some of his most persuasive work of the whole program, especially on "Devotion"—which, perhaps because of the title, is more reflective than anything else in the set. This does not, however, make for anything predictable, especially in view of the fact that Anderskov reins in his obvious capacity for boiling. In the ditching of dogma that this implies, he substitutes a kind of intentionally faltering approach. The duo still manages to avoid implications of chamber music, however, and this is thanks largely to the intuitive understanding of its players; the depth of which has the effect of making its music sound more profound than anything to be gleaned from simple reading of notes off a page.
Anderskov's odd left-hand punctuations on "Downstairs" become, soon enough, just one musical sub-text in the midst of three, and when he gives up on them it has the effect of taking the music, not to a higher level, but just one that's different. In lesser hands, such an exercise might not come off, but here it does because there's nothing casual in the way this duo goes about making music—thus, something of an object lesson.
New York City Jazz Record - Ken Waxman
Possibly the key to this memorable exercise in chamber improv by German reedist Frank Gratkowski and Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov is the final track, which was actually the disc’s sound check. On it the two limber up by playing pastiches of jazz standards and neobop. That suggests that Gratkowski, usually known for spikier work with pianist Simon Nabatov or in the Bik Bent Braam band, and Anderskov, whoseas more usual playing partners are sound-extenders such bassist Michael Formanek or reedist Chris peed, set out to make a conventionally modern record. Judging by their experience and talent that they accomplished their goal is no surprise; that the jazz climate is often so conservative that many would consider this collection of originals far out is shameful.
Gratkowski is at his most expressive playing clarinet on “Asteroids” and “Devotion”. The former is a measured showcase that blends delicate, contralto reed warbling with methodical and legato piano harmonies through the use of subtle layers of translucent sound coloring. Even darker and lowerpitched, the latter tune contrasts Anderskov’s tonic clusters and slippery note extensions with legato, though shrill, reed glissandi, bonding the duet with chromatic key fills and romantic reed obbligatos.
Never to be confused with mood jazz however, the improvising on Ardent Grass includes strained glossolalia and pressurized reed bites from Gratkowski’s alto plus tremolo cadenzas and caustic metronomic chording from Anderskov. “Downstairs” is the paramount example of this, as the clarinetist’s rough chalumeau tones evolve into downward-sliding polyphonic harmonies ranged alongside the pianist’s staccato key-clipping and soundboard echoes.
This CD isn’t just notable for inspired playing, but also as a definition of how a modern mainstream disc should sound.
New York City Jazz Record, March 2011
massimo ricci. touching extremes.
Frank Gratkowski’s reed-based ductility is an identified attendance at this domicile, whereas Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov is a charming new entry in a personal album – by now thick as a phone book – of excellent musicians who, one way or another, had escaped my consideration to date. Ardent Grass results as a fusion of technical neatness and shared esteem, qualities that brighten up eight moderately probationary improvisations. There’s no chance of listening to embittered exchanges or out-of-context pitches in this disc: the articulation of each contributor’s language is just about perfect, sometimes almost to a fault. Counterpoints are seamed impeccably; lines are depicted with physical certitude and open ears, every time respecting a distribution of weights that improves the interplay’s economy. Doubling on alto sax and clarinets, the German shows how the illustration of well-dressed designs can constitute an acceptable alternative to the troublesomeness of sufferance; he seems to walk lightly across any situation, always managing to stay connected with the duet’s essential spirit. Anderskov is a tasteful counterpart devoid of affected solemnity, the owner of a crystalline pianism permeated by precise flexibility who knows exactly when less is more, and vice versa. Never for a second we felt victims of the bravado of futile virtuosity: in this case, frequent listens are not wearisome.