Simon Nabatov

Concert Review: Simon Nabatov Trio @ The Galway Jazz Fest (Ireland)

Date: October 8, 2017
Venue: Galway Jazz Festival (Ireland)

Review by Fiona Mactaggart (Photograph by sus)

An award for ‘friendliest festival’ might well go to the Galway Jazz Festival, this 4-day long event utilizing an eclectic range of venues and heaving with musical treasures. Tonight the venue is an up-market restaurant, the musical fare a veritable aural banquet offered by the new trio of pianist-extraordinaire, Simon Nabatov.

Aged 20 Simon Nabatov emigrated from Russia with his parents, via Rome, before settling in New York. For the last 27 years however Nabatov has made Koln, Germany his home, appearing regularly there at The Loft. This peripatetic, culturally informed and restless quality is evident too in his music, in both his wide-ranging musical interests and mastered styles of pianism. An extensive discography, whether playing solo, in small group ensemble or in the superb NDR Big Band, demonstrates Nabatov’s mastery of both lush lyricism and highly creative improvisation.

It comes as a surprise then when Simon Nabatov explains that tonight his trio will, unusually, play through-composed works, mostly from the 2016 release by Leo Records, Picking Order. Nevertheless the freeness and unrelenting creativity of improvisation is felt throughout the concert, with band mates Stefan Schonegg (double bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums) contributing youthful energy but also a free jazz ability and sensibility beyond their years.

The evening opens with a pacey rendition of “One-Track Mind” from Nabatov’s 2000 release Sneak Preview, recorded with his previous trio. Setting the tone for the evening, Nabatov is octopus-like in his dominance of the keyboard, the piece starting out melodically but soon deconstructing Cecil Taylor style.

This dichotomy between gentle, often gorgeous lyricism – take the opening of “It’s a Given” for example – and thundering torrents of deconstruction, is evident in most pieces. As too are regular references to other musical forms, most obviously in “Growing a Social Patch,” with its swoops through western classical form, and darts into rock and R&B, all amidst flurries of block chords and constantly shifting atonality.

Towards the end of tonight’s concert Simon Nabatov treats us to a second piece from his older canon, “The Lake,” which he explains evokes a nightmarish memory of a childhood holiday. This one piece, highly dissonant and filled with foreboding, is unusual as it does not resolve into “a happy ending”.

Tonight’s is a magisterial display, the constant dynamic, rhythmic and velocity shifts demanding to be savoured, an 8 – course feast of a concert. It is to be hoped that US audiences will have the opportunity to hear him in the US; if not, a trip to Koln is recommended.