Matthias Schubert and Simon Nabatov – Descriptions
(Leo Records LR686. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
German saxophonist Matthias Schubert met the Russian pianist Simon Nabatov in New York in 1984, when they were in their mid-20s. They worked together in various groups over the years, but Descriptions – recorded live at Loft in Cologne in May 2012 – is their first duet release.
The concert bears the hallmarks of a pair who know each other well (Nabatov has been based in Cologne since 1989), and Nick Duvidowski’s liner essay astutely observes that Schubert and Nabatov avoid “the clichés of improvised music, that of tending to behave like a flock of birds, always flying and turning together”. And so it is that some of the session comes across as more of a kerfuffle than a conversation, making a variously fascinating and challenging experience.
The ten improvisations vary in length from less than two minutes to almost 17. Schubert displays a wide spectrum of expression: gruffness on Insistence, kissing and spluttering during Inhibition, and “normal” tone production on Obliqueness. The piano’s capability for variety may be more restricted, but Nabatov creates koto-like passages, odd muffled effects, creaking and knocking as he manipulates the strings, keyboard and woodwork.
Enhancement begins with a rising arpeggio by Nabatov that is reflected in a falling figure from Schubert. A harnessed vamp is interrupted by an interlude that sets a repetitive saxophone riff against hard hitting, Don Pullen-like piano, before it dissolves towards conciliation. During Enrichment, the tenor is hissy and urgently slap-tongued, while the piano is muted and its strings are carefully plucked and strummed. There are tinkling chords, moments of stasis, and a few odd noises that seem as if they couldn’t possibly have been produced by the tools at hand.
The longest track, Expansion, is relatively straightforward at first – and almost pretty at times – although it remains jolly difficult to see exactly how the players are relating to each other. The clicking of the saxophone’s levers is pitted against the rumbling piano; then there’s a section in which “avant garde fours” are exchanged as Schubert alternates conventional and whooshing sounds between Nabatov’s phrases. The sax fixes on lengthy notes that become unsteady and turbulent as the piano tumbles underneath, and together they build to a loud and violent climax. Common ground is eventually found, and calm prevails at the conclusion.
It’s unlikely to impress your girlfriend’s parents when they come over for dinner, but this is demanding, thought-provoking stuff from two leading exponents of European free jazz.