FRANK GRATKOWSKI / CHRIS BROWN / WILLIAM WINANT – Wake

Red Toucan

Unjustly, Canadian imprint Red Toucan does not receive excessive accolades, most probably due to a low rate of recurrence in their releases, the large part positioned well over the average standards of artistic reliability. It only takes a peep at the label’s catalogue to realize that many stalwarts of modern-day improvisation – Marilyn Crispell to John Butcher, Joëlle Léandre to Vinny Golia – have been recording for Michel Passaretti’s ever-consistent label.

Looking at the participants in Wake is enough to comprehend that this is one of those albums in which there’s no need of sticking tags on something that – borrowing the name of Alfred Harth’s earliest ensemble – is definable as “just music”, executed with commendable balance of fervour and wisdom in unconditional technical superiority. The careers of Gratkowski (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax), Winant (vibraphone, percussion) and Brown (piano, live electronics) feature a sort of Gotha in regard to collaborations and commissions, all three having performed works by worldwide known composers and played with the very best in the areas of free music, jazz and contemporary classical. Without throwing hundreds of names, a quick check of the artists’ respective websites tells everything: we’re in presence of jack of all trades and masters of each one of them.

The five tracks of this CD – a rare occasion in which a duration of circa 73 minutes is not perceived as a yoke – enclose a whole host of complicated techniques and instant answers which, if utilized by lesser instrumentalists, would almost resemble a gallery of technically advanced trickery. In “Scrabble”, for example, the trio exploits the toneless sides of their apparatuses marvellously, gradually transforming a jungle of wet pops, lingual abstruseness, light hits and general inharmonic insidiousness into a phraseology bursting with astute superimpositions of concise fragments and diligent anti-embellishments, resembling a downgraded orchestra losing its pieces bit by bit in sublime decadence as the time elapses. In the subsequent piece, the gorgeous “Parallax”, the tension generated by the reticent call-and-response between Winant’s quivering vibes and metals, Gratkowski’s precisely sensitive undertones and Brown’s slightly misshapen perturbations is substantial, the musicians not laying to rest on a defined tonal centre in favour of an irresistible predisposition to well-dressed discomposure.

What separates the contenders from the pretenders is the sense of “on-the-spot composition” that underscores the entire disc. The threesome utilize a “full-acuity” approach, intuitions placed right in the heart of a continuously blossoming interaction where divergent moods, lyrical hesitations and conscious probing symbolize a fusion of purposes which, in the end, sounds like a studied ceremony. The electronic factor is often crucial in gathering the timbres under an umbrella of tactful morphing, the character of the instruments altered exactly as necessary; an ideal measure of pragmatism, which prevents the playing from taking the “gone astray” road to improvisational blankness. The ears get appreciative both for the single voices and the deriving composite textures, a spectacular tidiness constantly visible down to the minute particulars of blowouts that might appear as specialist gibberish at first yet, contrariwise, correspond to rites of passage towards an acoustically balanced, literally enlightened even-handedness.

A thoroughly recommended set worthy of scrupulous investigations: additional qualities will be materializing with every new spin.

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