10/2021: Simon Nabatov | No Kharms Done

Rezension von Uwe Bräutigam auf nrwjazz.net

Text & Fotos: Uwe Bräutigam

Cologne, 29.09.2019 | Simon Nabatov turns again to the Russian writer Daniil Kharmas (old spelling Charms). As early as 16 years ago, he had already made musical use of Kharms.

For Simon Nabatov, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1979, Russian literature is an important companion that inspires him again and again. From 2001 to 2004, he composed into the Russian Trilogy, dedicated to Bulgakov, Brodsky, and Kharms.

In 2018, he turned his attention to the Futurists and Isaac Babel. Now he has returned to Daniil Kharms, a representative of literary absurdism, with the composition No Kharms Done.

The title is bitter irony and plays with the words “harms” and Kharms. But in reality a lot of “harm” has been done to the poet. Kharms, who was born in Petersburg in 1905, founded the artists’ group Oberio (Association of Real Art) in 1927, which was banned in 1930. His works were no longer allowed to be printed, he then switched to children’s books. In 1941 he was thrown into prison and then died in prison psychiatry in 1942. His main works are 30 short stories, which he called cases. These texts are bitter absurd humor with depth. Kharms wrote in his diary:

“I am interested only in nonsense, only in what has no practical sense at all. I am interested in life only in its nonsensical appearance.” A phrase Nabatov also uses in his composition. The texts that Simon Nabatov has processed are all in English, because of the speaker Phil Minton. Nabatov says he is still looking for a “Russian Phil Minton” then he would use the original language.

He has assembled an international band for his No Kharms Done project. The unique vocal artist Phil Minton from England, the experienced and renowned avant-garde saxophonist Matthias Schubert, trombonist Wolter Wierbos from the Netherlands, has been in Misha Mengelberg’s orchestra for 30 years, and Jim Black from the downtown scene in New York. Four great musicians of the avant-garde with diverse experiences.

Nabatov’s composition consists of nine parts that take up short texts by Kharms, such as the “The Petrakov Case” or “How a Young Man Made a Watchman Wonder.” In between are inserted two electronic ” interludes” recorded by Jim Black with live samples. At the end some text passages in Russian sound, which are played in.

The music is very diverse and works with shock effects resulting from sudden changes in dynamics. The composition begins with a wild ensemble tutti, fitting to the story “Hetzjagd” Quiet passages alternate with well-calculated chaos. Slow passages alternate with breakneck speed in time-lapse tempo. Phil Minton howls, howls, squeals, whines, moans or speaks in a deep sonorous voice. He celebrates the lyrics in an inimitable way. But also the trombonist Wierbos and the saxophonist Schubert play sometimes excessively and give energy to the pieces. Jim Black not only works with his drums, but also uses electronics.

Simon Nabatov and his musicians transform the Cologne Loft into a Moscow artist’s basement where the avant-garde meets. Nabatov’s music does more than justice to Kharms’ absurdist poet. It sets a fitting monument to the writer, not carved in stone, but consisting of many tones, full of twists and ideas that reflect the absurdity of his texts.

Link to Reading concert by Simon Nabatov: Isaac Babel.