Frank Gratkowski (clarinet/sax) seems to get over to the Bay Area quite a lot. (In fact, he’ll be here again around April 4 for, among other things, Philip Gelb’s food/music series.) Point is, Gratkowski doesn’t seem like a stranger, and maybe that’s why the rapport on this improv album flows so well.
This is abstract improvised music, as is usual for Damon Smith‘s Balance Point Acoustics label. Many tracks follow a pattern of slow, thoughful improvising that builds to a nice, loud frenzy. It’s not at all formulaic. It’s more that when you’re jamming with friends, and the moods and ideas click, it’s probably easy for the pace and volume to pick up. The result is a nice ride for the listener.
Take the 15-minute “Indexes Provolones.” It starts with relatively slow moving spaces and an airy, flutelike sound to Gratkowski’s careful clarinet notes. A quiet bass solo shows off some of Smith’s tricks, with the bow glancing and gliding across the strings. The second half opens up into some jazzlike group work, with bright clarinet and piano (Scott R. Looney) lines backed with some dense percussion (Kjell Nordeson), before turning fierce. Twice in the late minutes, you can hear the whole band surge forth, as if cranking the dials all at once.
“Mimetic Holds” is perhaps the most extreme track in exploring thoughtful silences and quiet, creeping progress. But it, too, develops into hard-clacking percussion with bass and clarinet doing faroff wailing sounds and ends with a more celebratory free-for-all. Overall, it’s a rewarding 13-minute journey.
You don’t always have to wait that long. “Any Icon Melody” has plenty of action from the get-go. “Badger Interlocks Kiwi” starts restlessly, with toneful sax improvising over a piano cascade and rustling bass/drums that quickly builds into faster playing and a fiery blast.
I should also point out that these titles, by themselves, are pretty darn cool. “Diverse Xenon Loops” and “Crablike Editing Works,” which really does start out crablike, are just scrumptious phrases.