All About Jazz | Simon Nabatov With Chris Speed, Herb Robertson, John Hébert, Tom Rainey – Plain


By Mark Corroto

How fitting is the comparison between the music of Simon Nabatov and a Matryoshka doll? The Russian-born American’s music is a nesting of not dolls but musical genres, placed one inside the other. Classically trained as a child, he can often be found in the free jazz wilds, moving easily between European and American brands of instant composing. He also has a passion for Brazilian music, chamber music, computer-interfaced sounds, and solo performance. Maybe the easiest introductions to his multi-faceted music are his quintet recordings with American jazz musicians. Before Plain, there was Last Minute Theory (Clean Feed, 2019) with Tony Malaby, Brandon Seabrook, Michael Formanek and Gerald Cleaver. Before that Nabatov released The Master And Margarita (Leo Records, 2001) with Herb Robertson, Mark Feldman, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey.

For Plain the pianist has reunited with Robertson and Rainey, plus added reedist Chris Speed, and bassist John Hébert. Of the seven tracks, five were composed by Nabatov, one is freely improvised, and the disc concludes with the pianist hero, Herbie Nichols’ “House Party Starting.” The title track “Plain,” not meaning unembellished but indisputable, weaves thoroughly composed music with feral passages. What begins with an elegant duo between Speed’s clarinet and Nabatov’s piano opens into Robertson’s muted trumpet romp and Rainey’s near stochastic pounding. With Nabatov’s music, what is seemingly detonated always finds its center, maintaining is coherence. Maybe it is the small gestures this music provides. “Cry From Hell” rewards the listeners’ patience with the quintet’s meandering. The composition flows from randomness to a Brazilian sway. “Break” works a kind of Aaron Copland Americana into the sweep of the composition, flirting with the blues and streams of orchestrated energy. The two outliers here are the collective improvisation “Ramblin’ On” and Herbie Nichols’ cover “House Party Starting.” The former features Robertson reciting (poetry?) through a bullhorn over an oxymoronic dissonant harmony. The Nichols’ track is played practically straightforward, glowing in its plain-spoken beauty. Just another doll within a doll within a doll within a doll…

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