60-year-old Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov, a champion of multiple collaborations in small-group formats, has been a widely explorative voice within the canons of leading-edge jazz. His first record as a leader on the Lisbon-based label Clean Feed is called Last Minute Theory, in which he leads an extraordinary lineup of New York players such as saxophonist Tony Malaby, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album features seven Nabatov originals and presents less ambiguity than it was expected, reshaping musical traditions to create new ones. Still, even providing accessible rides, a strong improvisatory mindset prevails throughout.
That fact can be immediately confirmed on “Old Fashioned”, an uncompromisingly swinging piece that, despite perfectly structured with a Mengelberg-like theme and well-defined melodies, embraces a provocative disposition. That sense of freedom is perfectly illustrated by Malaby’s searing impressions and Nabatov’s strong melodic figures and neo-noir chordal movements. On top of this, there’s the tense, dissonant, and always interesting comping from Seabrook, who also delivers an unconventional electronics-drenched solo. At the tail end of this trip, a vamp displays the supple rhythm section producing some steam.
“Rickety” is another lively piece launched with the magical rhythm imposed by Cleaver, dark-toned saxophone proclamations, and a non-conflicting combination of guitar and piano, all immersed in details and embellishments. The music then converges into a danceable groove with Cleaver and Formanek bringing a one-of-a-kind propulsion to the tune. Both the texture and the beautifully spiky ostinatos won’t leave anyone indifferent.
The bubbling, spot-on snare drum procession that gives “Marching Right Along” its personality is interrupted at some point by a carefree collective stretch. This is not a rambunctious effort. Neither a sluggish one. The group was in many ways more reflective on the brooding musical nebula called “Translated” and especially “Slow Move”, a vaporous exercise featuring Malaby’s soprano abstractions, here closely followed by Nabatov’s vigilant pianism.
Abounding in rhythmic figures, the pianist’s captivating vocabulary catalyzes avant-garde dilatations on “Good Pedigree”, which evolves with musing and reasoning on one side, and tautness and friction on the other. The tension created here is taken further on the closing track, “Afterwards”, a recipient of electrifying timbral exploration and finely-tuned harmonic construction. Whereas Malaby blows wildly and creates turbulence with his colleagues in activity, an unaccompanied Formanek lets his ideas take a natural course. The intensity is then readjusted to something sleeker, in an odd-metered cyclic passage, which not even Seabrook’s striking dissonances were able to subvert.
Nabatov’s consistently evolving musical vision has here a great outcome. The group operates with a steady hand when necessary, but also emancipates itself through an astonishing mobility.