Gratkowski / Tramontana „INSTANT SONGS“
Sonntag 18. November 2018 - 20:30
Frank Gratkowski (D) – Altsaxophon, Klarinette, Bassklarinette, Kontrabassklarinette
Sebi Tramontana ( I ) – Posaune
„Instant Songs“ beschreibt wohl am besten die Musik welche Sebastiano Tramontana und Frank Gratkowski in ihrem Duo spontan entstehen lassen. Ihre Improvisationen wirken oft wie kleine komponierte Lieder und zeichnen sich durch eine klare Struktur aus. Einige haben wunderschöne Melodien andere beinhalten selbst die Stimmen der Spieler oder benutzen erweiterte Spieltechniken wie Mehrklänge oder Geräuschhaftes. Einige sind sehr romantisch andere wiederum sehr abstrakt. Aber letztendlich geht es immer um den musikalischen Dialog mit einer erzählerischen Qualität, um spontane Lieder. Was Tramontana und Gratkowski an ihrem Duo besonders mögen ist, dass die Musik sich sehr von ihren weiteren Projekten unterscheidet.
Review of the album „Live At Španski Borci“ released on Leo Records.
Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, Bb clarinet); Sebi Tramontana (trombones).
I wanted to do this particular review just because the music got under my skin. It doesn’t purport to be ‘important’ or some kind of stylistic breakthrough, but in an off-hand, modest matinee of a performance it could be just that if you let it. Live At Španski Borci, is a delicious example of how instantly music can be created, how it can be presented with no frills yet still retain an inherent quality, and how it can spark new things in the ears despite the fact that you have heard these players many times before and believe you understand, or are at least simpatico, with their rationale. I suppose, I was also drawn to the cover artwork by Sebi Tramontana – a rough and ready drawing of a man’s drooping arm hanging out of, what? A shell on legs? A monster mouth? Mr Tramontana’s own arms are critical to his music. Trombone players use the whole length of one arm to control their sound and use the other in a positioning V shape, to grip and literally face-up to the instrument. Look carefully at the cover picture and the two short legs of this figure appear tethered together, restricted. The very opposite of what is happening musically. And finally, for me, the other delight in relation to the sleeve is the notes. There’s an interesting ‘I’m-hung-up-with-critics’ trailer of words by Steve Beresford. A humorous frolic using Flann O’Brien as a starting point. However, the real deal is the two short paragraphs contributed, firstly by Gratkowski about Tramontana, the second a Tramontana piece describing Gratkowski. Like the music, they read in the manner of instant, intimate reflections. As if they’ve been asked to write them on scraps of paper just prior to publication. Frank writes: “It has a beautiful playfulness… The connection between us is almost mysterious….” Or try this from Sebi: “Spending my time with him is enriching. Frank is a bottomless pit. Human and artistic. A great musician. My friend.” Wouldn’t anyone want to have that said about them from someone they’ve gigged and recorded with for almost twenty years? Listen to these fifteen “Instant songs”, the longest 5.28, the shortest 2.10, and they feel as if they naturally arrived as the artwork that surrounds them. The titles that peg these duets to the page read like descriptors of each performance – Time and Space, Dancer, Singer, Series of Dramatic Events, Nocturne, Homage. Each one an individual little story, sometimes boldly burlesque like Series of Dramatic Events, which involves overblown reeds masking as a choir alongside the bone acting the role of both clown and grand narrator. Others such as Singer and Deceiver, convey a single idea pitched but not played beyond its staying power.
The crack that is Deceiver, edgy, ragged, fractured, could in other hands and hearts end up clogging up the ears, like listening to neighbours arguing about the volume. That doesn’t happen, instead it’s a glimpse of potential danger before its reached fulfilment. We don’t know if there’s any long term deceit, meanwhile intrigue is cooked up on the spot. To taste, bitterness can be soured by something sweet. Singer contains no vocal song, but you know what they mean, this is a tune that could go either way – to the conservatoire or the coffee-house open-mic night. And I appreciate the title is given as a singular, not plural. This is tea for two taken from a common tea pot (in a manner of speaking). A song sung through two horns-of-plenty. Another special quality about this recording is that it harks back to the work of other musicians who have also walked this lonely road. At no time is there impersonation, yet Frank Gratkowski touches on the spirit of people like Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill and Mike Osbourne. As Gratkowski/Tramontana press into the sound pad of their instruments it’s as if the well-tempered trombone of the great Roswell Rudd has broken free once more to take up his place alongside John Tchicai or maybe even, Steve Lacy. These were all touch and go pioneers with personal vocabularies. Technicians, certainly, but more importantly great non-vocalised storytellers. Among the final twenty minutes of the Španski Borci performance Gratkowski and Tramonta seem to hold up a joint discussion of reed and trombone language as if it were a trophy. They have cracked their own code and this is their simple reward. To play the gig. Empathy begins with smears of tongue and breath control flushed through metal. Frank Gratkowski is the one with the lead lines, Sebi Tramonta doing his own thing. “I’m in agreement with you, Frank.” Yet forever Sebi is lengthening his arm out to try to find a scale beyond the bottom of the bone. By the final fifth minute they have reached common ground. They play out their joint satisfaction. A couple of minutes further down the line this odd couple embark on a Homage of whistles, coughs and mouthpiece distortions. What kind of Homage is this? And then they settle like two old birds on a perch. To reference Flann O’Brien again, its two birds swimming on a perch rather than swinging on one. I find it a lovely, lively moment. This is the wonderful “bottomless pit” of music. I kept my tea in the cup; little in the way of tunes, the bare essentials of chromatic truth, but in their place is enacted a fertile playfulness of madcap magic and kindred spirit. It’s true, I didn’t tap my feet or dance to my boiling kettle. I can’t hum a melody line or give you the chord changes. If music depends on these things to define the rationale then pass up on Frank Gratkowski and his buddy, Sebi Tramontana, it is way, way too late to change them now. On the other hand, if you feel like taking an hour out to genuinely feast on a couple of masters of improvisation here’s an excellent place to begin.