A journeyman on the international jazz circuit, Simon Nabatov may not be a household name for the average jazz fan, but has been on the radar of the cognoscenti for some time now. Born and raised in Moscow, he relocated with his family in New York in 1979, barely into his twenties. By then, he was thoroughly trained in classical music, but spent most of the next decade furthering his studies at Juilliard and honing his jazz chops at sessions, dues-paying gigs and recording dates around town. Ten years later, he packed up and left for Cologne, his home base to this day. Over the years, he has amassed an impressive discography, not only in numbers but also in scope. For Leo Records, he has produced a string of releases that range from solo covers of Herbie Nichols tunes to programmatic music composed for medium-size ensembles.
The present album, issued on the incredibly prolific Portuguese imprint Clean Feed, occurred during a visit back to the pianist's former stomping ground. The cast is as reliable as you can get, the ubiquitous saxman Tony Malaby sounding the charge with the leader, double bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerald Cleaver providing loose but cogent backing. Guitarist Brandon Seabrook completes the lineup, though his presence is not felt so much as a soloist but more as a weaver of intriguing layers of synth-like sounds. While capable of playing dazzling runs with razor-sharp precision, Nabatov can approach things in a very understated way.
No less engaging is his writing, and all eight pieces contained on this 50-minute side show his considerable range in that department. There is something very visceral to the music, a kind of rough-and-tumble approach that has that Gotham City grist to it. From the onset, the band drops the gloves, the opening track title "Old Fashioned" somewhat at odds with the rough-edged jazz stylings of the piece (no relation here to the standard "I'm Old Fashioned) ". But all is not brawn, there are plenty of brains as well, especially in the more restrained moments. For one, the aptly titled second cut "Slow Move" appears suspended in time, with an austere atmosphere driven by spiky chords. (as quoted from the uncredited liner notes.) More ballad-like, "Translated" evokes the dreamy feel of the musical worlds of the great late drummer Paul Motian with whom Nabatov recorded [...] in 1985. Elsewhere, such as the third track "Rickety", the playing is sparse at first, only to morph into some heated collective improv in the middle and some grooving piano figures to wind it down. Conversely, the quintet opens the floodgates in the final cut "Afterwards", but brings it down with a bass solo and some peaceful song-like phrases disrupted by the guitarist's only solo of the set, and a quirky one at that.
When considering great jazz recordings from the past, one of their hallmarks was that sense of loose togetherness they had, where the music was never too slick for its own good. This recording is a reminder of that, and, come to think of it, that may well justify the title of that first number after all. And the liner notes imply that, too: "The album opens with the nostalgic stroll "Old Fashioned". The band gets into a leisurely stride, with a few odd bars to the tune to assure a slightly stumbling effect along the way." Couldn't have described it better myself!
Comments and Feedback: