Recorded live at The Loft in Cologne in January 2006, Celebrations features three-quarters of Frank Gratkowski's long-standing quartet. The missing member is trombonist Wolter Wierbos, here traded in for pianist Simon Nabatov. Gratkowski and Nabatov had previously played together, most notably at Leo Records' 25th anniversary concerts, held in January 2004 at the same venue. At that occasion the pair had performed in a trio with drummer Paul Lovens and a quartet with Lovens and singer Lauren Newton. Even though this grouping is very close to Gratkowski's quartet lineup, Celebrations does not feel so much like one of the reedman's projects, mostly due to Nabatov's towering presence. His piano flourishes and expansive lyricism often push the music into realms quite unlike Gratkowski and company's pointillistic sound world. This contrast is particularly obvious in "Celebration IV," where Nabatov turns away from the ivories to play a cracklebox (a crude electronic device) -- the quartet's usual nature takes this opportunity to come back in full force. Herb Robertson shines throughout the set as the subtle improviser that he is, rarely stepping out front, but always influencing the overall direction of the music with his delicate trumpet lines sitting on the fence between sound and note. As for Gratkowski, he is in his usual great shape, switching between alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet, trying to match Nabatov's piano in range and spectrum -- and almost succeeding. Celebrations is not one of any of these musicians' high points (almost any of the Frank Gratkowski Quartet's recordings will match it in drive, depth, and excitement), but it chronicles a pleasurable, well-fitted meeting.
AllMusic Review by François Couture