Frank Gratkowski

Triskaidekaphonia

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An unusual set by all standards for the great reedman, and one many fans will deem difficult to get into. Then again, just a glance at the lineup is enough to set off some alarms: Thomas Lehn plays an analog synthesizer in the most unlikely ways, while Melvyn Poore has perfected a wide range of extended techniques on the tuba and euphonium. Both of these musicians can build up to a frantic level of noise, but they are more likely to focus on quiet textural improvisation. And that is what happens on Triskaidekaphonia -- which must mean "sound of the number 13," since triskaidekaphobia is being afraid of that very number. Anyone looking for an album showcasing Frank Gratkowski's virtuosic clarinet playing will be disappointed, as the four improvisations included herein are 90 percent about exploring subtonal sounds, disqueting drones, and bleak, cavernous atmospheres. Clicking keys, farting mouthpieces, and twinkling electronics abound, sometimes coalescing into striking instant choreographies. Yet, as a whole, Triskaidekaphonia fails to captivate the intellect the way other proponents of this approach can. Except for "Umbrellas" (the shortest piece at ten minutes), this set lacks assurance and intensity -- the key ingredient to quiet improvisation, even though it may seem paradoxical at first. There are some interesting exchanges between tuba and synthesizer, and one would like to hear Poore again in another Gratkowski project, but this particular instrumentation by this particular trio does not really work out. Still, it is nice to hear Gratkowski stepping outside his usual territory and trying something different.

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