Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Frank Gratkowski and Simon Nabatov, Tender Mercies, Clean Feed ***1/2

We don't usually comment on cover art but make an exception here as the design and paintings, glance above, are beautiful. The music as you might guess given the visual clues is highly modernistic and avant-garde and just as appealing. We have …

Published: 6 Feb 2023. Updated: 16 months.

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We don't usually comment on cover art but make an exception here as the design and paintings, glance above, are beautiful. The music as you might guess given the visual clues is highly modernistic and avant-garde and just as appealing. We have been listening to music by veteran German reedist Frank Gratkowski for years and even more regularly by the equally prolific pianist Simon Nabatov. Recording as so often at the Loft venue in Cologne there is an intricacy in what Nabatov in a duo setting achieves. And while some passages can be wild and hugely exuberant there is a lot of thought in the compositional design of the album and you get a grandeur that you don't always obtain from free-jazz. When Gratkowski switches especially to flute or clarinet it's as if new possibilities arise and you get a serene sensitivity on 'Surfaces' for example. Stimulating overall, not for the faint hearted (there aren't any tunes you can whistle as you wend your way home) - however the deliberate mayhem of the final track is far less appealing. Whether you call Tender Mercies ''classical/contemporary'', ''improvised music/jazz'' or choose any other generic labelling to blithely fandango about, matters not one jot if you get the duo's essential drift.

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Enzo Zirilli Zirobop, Ten Past Never, Ubuntu ***

Anything with English player Rob Luft who hails from Sidcup and was born in 1993 on it is worth hearing and here in long running group Zirobop run by Italian drummer Enzo Zirilli who always excels best at quiet volumes and is an ingenious shuffling …

Published: 6 Feb 2023. Updated: 16 months.

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Anything with English player Rob Luft who hails from Sidcup and was born in 1993 on it is worth hearing and here in long running group Zirobop run by Italian drummer Enzo Zirilli who always excels best at quiet volumes and is an ingenious shuffling livewire presence when needed is further confirmation of such a claim.

There is a typical jam session type feel to some of the tunes. 'Total Madness' based on Sonny Rollins' 'Tenor Madness' again a jam session staple in many jazz clubs any night of the week has a lot of spirit to it as chorus after chorus unspools. Luft is joined by another guitarist Zirilli's countryman Alessandro Chiappetta who blends well especially on 'Arun.'

A twin to 2017's Ten To Late the Italian balladeering element of the album comes across well on gorgeous 1980s Pino Daniele song 'Nun ce sta piacere' that somehow becomes even more universal in their treatment like a tune Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden could have covered given how much the jazz version skilfully arranged here suits that sound as on at a pinch 1990s classic Beyond the Missouri Sky.

Zirobop have on the earlier album covered another Daniele song 'Notte che se ne va' in a tasteful introspective version on which bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado takes a well delivered solo against chugging accompaniment.

Overall Ten Past Never is pretty good certainly only a little let down by those overly familiar jam session type choices. And yet the more interesting choice of later material chronologically, Steve Swallow's 'Ladies in Mercedes' that goes back to Gary Burton's mid-1980s Real Life Hits and Keith Jarrett's Belonging Band era 'The Wind Up', certainly makes up for these enough given that they are not so often heard and fit the feel and mood of what the band are trying to express.

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Enzo Zirilli, photo: Roberto Cifarelli