Frank Gratkowski

GratHovOx

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This is a great radio session recorded in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 14, 2000. GratHovOx embodies everything uninhibited free improv can deliver. The presence of two of the genre's most prestigious veterans certainly has something to do with it. Fred Van Hove performs most of the set on a Steinway D piano. He grabs his accordion for "Foreplay/Vorspiel." Tony Oxley produces an astounding number of different sounds from his acoustic drum kit, keeping the electronics very discreet. Between them stands reedman Frank Gratkowski, using mostly instruments from the clarinet family this time around -- his raspy alto sax makes an appearance in the 20-minute "Trenches/Tranches." The trio aims at a kind of free improvisation that leaves room to breathe and listen without getting entrenched in the sonic scrutiny of Berlin reductionism. The music has movement, grace, and moments of sheer excitement that never lose sight of the group sound -- the perfect balancing act. Highlights are numerous but nothing quite compares to "Foreplay/Vorspiel." Gratkowski has his almighty contrabass clarinet in hand, but Van Hove is handling his accordion. To match the delicate wheezes of the squeeze box, Gratkowski decides to stick to the very upper register of the instrument. It may not sound like much but it truly is an understated tour de force. The way "Trenches/Tranches" boils down in its last five minutes to reveal tiny details in the playing of all three musicians also constitutes a moment of pure delight. Simply put, GratHovOx stands as one of the best free improv sessions released in 2002 and comes heartily recommended.

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