The Frank Gratowski trio provides rigorous, hard-hitting performances on this four-song CD. The live setting probably contributed to the sense of intrigue that’s evident from the beginning of “Showers” to the final bar on “Second Coming.”
Gratowski’s least effective on alto saxophone. He’s tentative and unsure, and substitutes volume and effects for substance. He’s far better on clarinet and bass clarinet, where he plays with assurance, confidence, range and surprise. His sound and tonal clarity on bass clarinet are a welcome relief from the standard rumbling and bottom-heavy, ear-shattering excesses now commonplace on that once neglected instrument.
Gratowski, pianist Georg Graewe and percussionist Paul Lovens collide, converge and sometimes even implode during their musical dialogues. Both “Crooked Rose” and “Second Coming” have moments when it’s clear the trio is seeking common ground; hearing them ultimately compromise is quite intriguing.
“Green Fuse” is the CD’s best piece. Here, everyone’s on the same page and each solo smoothly flows from the prior player’s direction. Still, chaos and fireworks are as much a part of live performance as anything else, and there are plenty of both during these four numbers.
The sometimes-ragged quality adds some charm and realism to the CD, and indicates it’s possible to forge creditable music out of loose, nearly anarchic settings if the participants truly know what they’re doing.