Frank Gratkowski / Jacob Anderskov: Ardent Grass (2011)
The reeds-piano duo is hardly overdone within the recorded canon, but then neither has it been as rare or unusual as some lineups. This particular duo is apparently not unaware of this, and there's a personality to its work that's entirely its own.
There's a little of Anthony Braxton about Frank Gratkowski's alto sax playing on the opening "Narrative" but not enough to distract the ear from the profundity of the music-making. Pianist Jacob Anderskov's touch is, by turns, delicate and marked by Cecil Taylor-like intensity, but happily that name serves only as a point of reference. The duo proves itself to be remarkably attuned, and that's quite an achievement in itself, but what's more notable still is the way in which the music is repeatedly resolved, with both men sensing, as one, when and where the dynamics should be applied.
By comparison, the title track is ruminative and fraught, but both men know that any pondering this might provoke has no more than a momentary function. Not a moment seems to pass without being marked by some musical development, but those developments prove to be but links in a much greater chain, given the musicians' abilities. When Anderskov nails rolling figures rife with momentum, Gratkowski is right there with him, and the result covers the ground with nary a faltering step.
On clarinet, Gratkowski exhibits an almost classically correct tone, but the uses he puts it to result in some of his most persuasive work of the whole program, especially on "Devotion"which, perhaps because of the title, is more reflective than anything else in the set. This does not, however, make for anything predictable, especially in view of the fact that Anderskov reins in his obvious capacity for boiling. In the ditching of dogma that this implies, he substitutes a kind of intentionally faltering approach. The duo still manages to avoid implications of chamber music, however, and this is thanks largely to the intuitive understanding of its players; the depth of which has the effect of making its music sound more profound than anything to be gleaned from simple reading of notes off a page.
Anderskov's odd left-hand punctuations on "Downstairs" become, soon enough, just one musical sub-text in the midst of three, and when he gives up on them it has the effect of taking the music, not to a higher level, but just one that's different. In lesser hands, such an exercise might not come off, but here it does because there's nothing casual in the way this duo goes about making musicthus, something of an object lesson.
Track Listing: Narrative; Diagnose; Ardent Grass; Asteroids; Rasa; Devotion; Downstairs; Sound Check.
Personnel: Frank Gratkowski: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Jacob Anderskov: piano.