Three Stories, One End

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: ACT
ALBUM TITLE: Simon Nabatov Trio
PERFORMER: Simon Nabatov (p), Drew Gress (b), Tom Rainey (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 9401-2

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The Simon Nabatov Trio’s first album, recorded (with Mark Helias rather than Drew Gress on bass) in 1992, was entitled Tough Customer, a slightly joky reference to its leader’s demanding perfectionism. Classically trained at the Moscow Conservatory, resident in New York during the Eighties and now based in Cologne, Nabatov has an enviable technique, an extraordinarily imaginative improvisational gift and a fertile compositional talent, manifested here in four rich, complex originals that positively bristle with ideas.

Lightning-fast reflexes, constant alertness and wide-open ears are consequently essential requirements in his rhythm section, and both Gress and Tom Rainey (the latter described by Nabatov as ‘specialised in tasteful grooves but [with] open ears for the avant-garde’) demonstrate all these attributes to perfection throughout this rigorously demanding but consistently rewarding album.

In addition to Nabatov’s absorbingly tricksy originals, the album’s two standards and three modern jazz classics receive compelling, original treatments, as if Nabatov’s intention were to make life as difficult as humanly possible for himself and his partners.

‘St Thomas’ and Johnny Mandel’s winsome ballad ‘Emily’ are thus completely refashioned, in both time and mood; ‘Epistrophy’ is so radically remodelled as to be barely recognisable for much of its ten-minute length; ‘Giant Steps’ is slowed to a tempo that demands the utmost skill from its players and the most careful attention from its listeners.

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If the album’s initial effect is, as a result of all this fearsome virtuosity, a trifle forbidding, it richly repays sustained attention: Nabatov is a great communicator; it’s just that in his own trio music he communicates, for the most part, musical intelligence and subtlety rather than uncomplicated enjoyment of his extravagant pianistic gift. Chris Parker