Frank Gratkowski / Frank Gratkowski Quartet

Spectral Reflections

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If you're looking for exhilarating avant-garde jazz, with powerful compositions performed by ferocious players, you found it. This could be the most muscular music that Frank Gratkowski has ever released. Spectral Reflections even tops Kollaps, the previous recording by this quartet, released on the Canadian label Red Toucan. There is something in this man's writing that seems to unleash the most vivacious passions of his acolytes. The ten-minute "Loom" begins with loud band cues and ends in the original free-form jam from Hell, Gerry Hemingway thrashing around on the drum kit like he has little demons biting his arms. "Homage," one of two 14-minute tracks, takes the form of an elaborate succession of themes relying on unisons and close unisons between Wolter Wierbos' trombone and Gratkowski's clarinet. "Fenster" picks up where "De Profundis" had left on Kollaps, but its long notes and placid mood sound cold, not menacing (the title track uses similar ideas with much better results). In perfect contrast, "Annäherungen III" kicks off with a free swing. Bassist Dieter Manderscheid gets a chance to stretch out in its second half. The first and last pieces of the disc contain passages where Wierbos and Gratkowski use breathing effects in their instruments, barely emitting a sound. While some musicians have made a religion out of this technique, here it is used as a compositional element -- and brilliantly so. The fact that Gratkowski can use that and a free jazz head or a fast-paced swing shows that his approach to jazz has no care for aesthetic feuds.

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