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Frank Gratkowski Trio
Frank Gratkowski Trio
Quicksand
Meniscus

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This is another in Meniscus Records' series of live, improvised, mostly acoustic discs. This time out it's Frank Gratkowski on alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet, Georg Graewe on piano and Paul Lovens on percussion and saw.

Quicksand was recorded live in Germany in January of 1999. The four tracks definitely feel like parts of a set, as they all share a certain skittery, slightly spooky ambiance. The jazz element here is stronger than on some of the other Meniscus discs I've heard, although that may just be a side effect of the instrumentation. This is very free-feeling music, with lots of quick turns and sudden shifts of mood and dynamics that make for exciting listening.

The first track, "Showers", starts off sparse and mellow, but soon builds to an almost non-stop stream of jerky melodies. Things get quiet again as the saw and bowed percussion take over. That doesn't last long though, and by the end of the track the streams of notes and clatter are back in full force.

"Green Fuse" begins with some quiet but active riffing in the sax and piano, with the percussion just sort of hanging out in the background. This slowly builds into a full out percussion assault, with the full kit getting pounded for all it's worth. Again there's an arch form, with things settling down into a more mellow, but still many-noted mood towards the end of the track. There are many, many notes played on this track!

Another mellow start in "Crooked Rose". This one is much less hyper, though, with warm, quiet chords from the piano, sustained tones and slow melodies from the winds and gentle accents from the percussion. As you might expect, that doesn't last too long, as everyone begins a slow crescendo and accelerando to a crazy middle section full of bangs and bashes and squeals and thumps. It's quite nice! Again there's a softer, quiet ending.

The beginning of the last track, "Second Coming", sounds like it might come right out of the end of track three. Once again it's a slow, quiet section, with muted chords in the piano and sustained, almost moaning sounds from the winds. This is probably my favorite section of the disc. Although the quiet section lasts quite a while this time, it ultimately morphs into another louder, note-filled romp. And again, it ramps back down to a mellow, contemplative end.

While using an arch form in each piece might sound a bit tedious, it's not really that apparent when listening to the tracks, as they're all rather long and the continuous ups and downs end up feeling spontaneous and organic. Some of the sounds here are pretty thick, and may not give someone unfamiliar with this sort of freely improvised music a lot to hold on to for the first few listens. But there are some very nice moments here, and they really make repeated listens worthwhile. There is a certain sameness of tone throughout the disc that works well for holding the tracks together, but at the same time it keeps any of them from really busting out and grabbing your ears. I think that Quicksand works best as the sort of disc that you put on in the background so that it can surprise you every once in awhile with an unexpectedly lovely sound.

-- irving bellemead
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