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Plain 12:00
Copy That 08:38
Break 07:42
Ramblin' On 03:03
Slow Thinker 10:29


Let's be clear from the start. There's nothing "plain" about the new recording by Simon Nabatov, if by plain you mean "not attractive" or "undistinguished". Nabatov clarifies: "in Plain I was consciously looking for that minimum of compositional conditions which would provide an interesting work frame. I mean "plain" as in simple, understandable, approachable - not as primitive or boring, and hoped to walk this thin dividing line (hopefully on the right side)." Be assured he has succeeded magnificently. Unsurprising really when you consider his background. Since leaving the Soviet Union in 1979 aged 20, Nabatov has brought a breathtaking finesse to a staggering range of styles, equally at home in modern jazz, free improvisation, the canons of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, and Brazilian music, as well as his own works which defy easy classification.

Plain is the second in an ongoing series of recordings (after 2019's excellent Last Minute Theory) in which Nabatov reconnects with the NYC scene after some 30 years, enthused by the increasing profile there for challenging music. He's recruited some of the city's finest talents for this session. Having worked twice with Chris Speed in the past he knew he wanted the reedman on board. "I’ve been a big fan for a long time. Love his clarinet sound, love this instrument." And of course it recalls Nabatov's first significant gig with the late clarinetist Perry Robinson. Alongside him is trumpeter Herb Robertson, a consummate player who's made a career out of avoiding the obvious, who appeared on Nabatov's The Master And Margarita (Leo, 2001). "He is definitely one of the unsung heroes of this music." Anchoring the band is the formidable tandem of Tom Rainey and John Hébert, a staple from the bands of Kris Davis and Ingrid Laubrock. While Nabatov's alliance with Rainey is longstanding, he's never performed with Hébert before. That fits the template: "The idea is to have on board at least one or two I never played with, but enjoyed their musicianship for some time."

That push-pull between familiarity and the unknown finds its echo in the material which mixes mood-morphing pieces with others where a narrative is more easily discerned. But whatever the conception, the outcome is thrilling. The mutable title track begins with a coolly elegant duet between Nabatov and Speed, on that clarinet, before becoming by turns portentous, rhapsodic, choppy and sparkling. Like all the charts here it contains more than enough leeway for the starry cast to lean into, and their sensitivity, commitment and exceptional prowess prove a continual pleasure as they ease gracefully between unfettered expression and precise notation.

Each number is its own world, often embracing similar juxtapositions. That's evident on "Copy That" where the tightly coiled theme is set amid lightly plotted interplay which includes a bristling tenor/trumpet exchange, and on "Cry From Hell" where the jaunty melody is bookended by inspired ensemble give and take. If you detect a Brazilian flavour here you would not be wrong. Nabatov is a mad keen fan of the country's popular music, and visits regularly. "The core tune is written in the genre "Choro" - a very popular instrumental genre born in Rio de Janeiro in the 1870s. The Portuguese word "choro" means a cry. And since it’s not exactly a clean authentic reading of the music - why not a somewhat ironic title?"

"Rambling On", the only improv on the date, envelops a text by Robertson, delivered through a bullhorn. "I felt its harsh nature would be a good contrast to the rest of the program. It has the compelling nature of a passionate (political?) statement, reflecting something of the zeitgeist of today." Nabatov rounds off the album with an urbane rendition of Herbie Nichols' "House Party Starting". As he explains, "It displays my take on "plain" perfectly - no hip arrangement, an unadorned, soothing conclusion."

What better way to finish.

John Sharpe, January 2020


released February 5, 2021

Chris Speed - tenor saxophone, clarinet
Herb Robertson - trumpet, cornet, voice
Simon Nabatov - piano
John Hébert - bass
Tom Rainey - drums

all music by Simon Nabatov (GEMA)
except track 5 (collective improv on the text of Herb Robertson)
and track 7 by Herbie Nichols

recorded June 1 2019 at the Trading8s Studio, New Jersey
recorded by Christopher Sulit, mixed and mastered by Stefan Deistler
Clean Feed Records


all rights reserved



Simon Nabatov Cologne, Germany

Simon Nabatov, pianist and composer, was born in Moscow in 1959.
In 1979 he emigrated to the USA, spent in NY next 10 years and 1989 he moved to Germany.
Simon Nabatov played with the "who's who" of the jazz and improvised music community, gave concerts in over 60 countries, appeared on the numerous international festivals, received prizes and documented his music on 30 CD's under his own name.
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