Frank Gratkowski Quartet
Spectral Reflections


The most beautiful surprise at the 2001 edition of the Controindicazioni Festival in Rome was for me the Frank Gratkowski Quartet - and I have to confess that I had never heard of them before. Sure, I'd listened for a long time to trombone player Wolter Wierbos, a treasure of the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra and of the Maarten Altena line-ups; and of course I was quite familiar with drummer Gerry Hemingway - who could forget that beautiful Anthony Braxton Quartet featuring Mark Dresser and Marilyn Crispell? But I'm positive I had never met bass player Dieter Manderscheid - nor the leader - before. Gratkowski appeared to me to be an excellent saxophone and clarinet player and composer who had listened quite deeply to Braxton and Steve Lacy. On that night the quartet had played with assurance, combining written scores and improvisation with a mature attention to timbre (which was to be expected). They had played quite a varied repertoire, and one piece stuck in my memory: an elementary riff, played "tutti", which sounded like a demented permutation of funky music - very weird indeed!

Spectral Reflections was recorded in Cologne a few days after the concert I attended, so it shares a lot of items with that. I had the pleasure to find that "funky" piece again - it's called Loom, and it works at home, too. There are episodes that can be quite easily classified as "jazz" - the brief Annäherungen III, the long Homage, whose second part swings like mad, while in the first part Wierbos's trombone plays against Gratkowski's clarinet and where I seemed to hear that dry lyricism that's so typical of Steve Lacy. There are some fine braxtonian ruminations on the bass clarinet in Spectral Reflections, while the more "abstract" Blonk and Fenster are to be enjoyed.

The four players play admirably, the CD is quite well recorded, so I can't see any reasons not to recommend this album - we have obviously to take for granted at this point in time the lack of anything new in this particular idiom.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | Sept. 7, 2003