|One Final Note Review: Reedist 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.