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CD LR 310


Simon Nabatov Quartet 

Nature Morte

Release date: 2001

Single CD (audio): GBP 10.00
listen CD_LR_310
To record the work based on Joseph Brodsky's poem "Nature Morte" Simon Nabatov has assembled an extraordinary ensemble: Phil Minton - voice, Frank Gratkowski - reeds, Nils Wogram - trombone, Simon Nabatov - piano. As Stuart Broomer writes in his notes: "Simon Nabatov's "Nature Morte" is a miracle of craft and vision, a rare synchrony of parts in which text, composition and improvisation are heard as essential complementaries." Simon Nabatov has arrived. There is no question this CD will stand the test of time and make jazz history.

Liner Notes

( Collapse liner notes )

Found in Translation

"This ancient cabinet ...   strangely reminds me of Paris's Notre Dame."

Joseph Brodsky's "Nature Morte" is a poem of terrible intensity, an icy
January reverie about life and death, the body and time, evolution and
devolution, god and man.  Its curves of meaning its subjects include
breath, the experience of the body's interiority, the indistinguishable
presence of the divine.  It is the poem of an exile already written before
he was exiled, the poem of a man convicted of "social parasitism" perhaps
for the ability to discuss the aspects of human existence ("Dust is the
flesh of time") more persistent than the merely political, even the merely
social.  The language of "Nature Morte," even in tranlation, is so potent
and explicit in its meanings that other language (this) enters its sphere
with only perilous results ("All talk is barren trade").  While its
figurative language will echo with Brodsky's other poems, it is not a poem
to be analyzed, pulled apart, glossed.  Its parts are already naked, cut
into uniform stanzas, ready to be reassembled in the reading, in the reader.
It does its own thinking.  Read it repeatedly and it becomes clear and
complete, the mind reading it achieving a kind of clarity and completeness
within it.  We cannot ask what it means. It means us.

   Joseph Brodsky and Simon Nabatov share much as artists, most
conspicuously an epic displacement, the writer exiled from the Soviet Union
at 32, the musician leaving it at 20, both taking up American residence.
Suspended  then, between the two great political fictions of our time, they
occupy an interzone, between tongues and cultures.  If "Nature Morte" is
part of what  Brodsky carried out of Russia, it is the vehicle by which
Nabatov travels back into his origins, until they present us with these dark
truths together, for Nabotov in his composing has made "Nature Morte" his
own poem.           Nabatov has read this poem so deeply and repeatedly,
stared into its mysteries and read it in its own depths, until there is
little outside the range of its text.  His musical treatment of the poem
does not conceal or change it, rather it expresses it in another language,
in a way not unlike George L. Kline's English translation.   In a sense,
Nabatov is framing the poet's text, the words of a poet alive to the
significant changes wrought by context, who thought poems belonged in public
and who fostered public poem projects in America.  Nabotov is also finding
the poem's time.  Somehow the 66-minute duration of this performance seems
appropriate to the poem's 600 words, the time of a reading in depth.

       Simon Nabatov's  Nature Morte    the work heard here is a miracle
of craft and vision, a rare synchrony of parts in which text, composition
and improvisation are heard as essential complementaries. The pianist has
both found a distinctive musical setting for each section and found a rare
group of musicians who can be trusted with its composed and spontaneous
demands.   In the process, he seems to find the closeness of Brodsky's own
symbolic language to music.  Acutely aware of music, too, as symbolic
language, Nabatov explores both its imitative and indigenous components.  In
part 6, piano and bass clarinet tones hang in the air like ice, and there
are at times enough barnyard sounds in play to suggest a Russian symphonic
fable about a young duck that cries "Orchestra!"  More formally, Nabatov
uses different tonal systems, from serialism to diatonic melody.  He also
orchestrates solo, duo, trio and quartet sections in a way that amplifies
themes of self and other, and the individual and collective imaginations.
He has the ability to work against expectation, witness the cumulative power
of Part 4 in which his composition gathers voices from the improvisation,
achieving then dispersing unison out of counterpoint.        Nabatov has
assembled an extraordinary ensemble, beginning with the luminous clarity and
sparkling lines of his own piano work.  When the piano is foregrounded,
Nabatov sounds like a soloist in a concerto of his own devising, while
elsewhere he develops backdrops of orchestral breadth for the other
musicians.  The great English singer Phil Minton is as skilful at declaiming
a text as any actor.  Speaking he creates a range of insinuation angles of
emotive attack that a reader of the silent text won't expect.  His vocal
technique covers Nabatov's myriad approaches, from pointillism and
speech-singing to the beautiful and unexpected ballad of the poem's eighth
stanza, and he's uniquely adept as a sonic improviser, here linking words
and instruments as no one else could.  At times, Minton's voice and the
horns cross so fully into one another, that it's hard to distinguish voice
and bass clarinet or trombone.  The aspect of breath, so central to the poem
(and visible in the cold), is emphasized both in Minton's voice and the
horns.  The two Cologne musicians, multi-reed player Frank Gratkowski and
trombonist Nils Wogram, are both astonishingly vocal virtuosos, consistently
amplifying and expanding the centrality of voice to this work.  Gratkowski
uses his numerous winds as aids in this, and Wogram his mutes, but there's
nothing merely mechanical in the execution here.

       This epic of breath is a work of continuous transformation, like the
poem itself perhaps a refutation of the notion of "nature morte," whether
read as simply "dead nature" or a genre of still-life painting.  It's living
tissue, vital organism, in which virtuosity is sublimated in collective
purpose and the range of meanings continues to expand.

Stuart Broomer
November 2000
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