Kaufmann, Gratkowski, de Joode Trio: Canberra

Germanic reeds, piano and bass trio brought its mix of free jazz and 'squeaky gate' free improvisation to Australia


An excellent album – on LP but not CD – on the cusp of free jazz and free improv. The trio is Achim Kaufmann on piano, Frank Gratkowski on alto saxophone, clarinet and alto flute, and Wilbert de Joode on bass. They’re inspired and totally simpatico – international tours and albums have made the three improvisers beautifully attuned.

As the blurb correctly comments, their music has the transparency of contemporary chamber music and the energy, momentum and unpredictability of jazz. The results are pellucid and state of the art. The LP comes from a tour that was financially supported by Goethe-Institut, and the trio appeared in Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong, Brisbane and Canberra. The album was recorded at Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, during the SoundOut festival.

All the music is by Kaufmann, Gratkowski and de Joode – that is, it’s spontaneously improvised free jazz/improv, with no planning. The opener, Now And Here, Burning, begins full-throated and strident, the three improvisers listening and reacting instantly and incisively. The tremulous middle section reminds me of Bartok’s “night music”, eventually giving way to a groove which makes the performance closer to free jazz than improv. Kaufmann here introduces piquant preparations on piano that roughen the sound – he does this also on the final track. Windows Alive is a fine example of austere and spare free improv – what critics have called “squeaky gate” – that builds to a furious climax.

I’ve long admired the work of these musicians, who are here at the summit of their creativity. Frank Gratkowski is a fluent and fluid reeds-player. Kaufmann is inventive and with a beautiful touch, while de Joode is a listening, powerful bassist. The recording is dedicated to Cor Fuhler (1964-2020), the Dutch/Australian improviser, composer and sound artist, who died far too young.

Now And Here, Burning; Windows Alive; Come Summer, Subtle Gumleaves; Coral In The Blast (36.34)
Frank Gratkowski (as, cl, af); Achim Kaufmann (p); Wilbert de Joode (b). Canberra, Australia, 1 February 2020.
Trokaan 007