Reedist Frank Gratkowski may not get confrontational as quickly as his contemporaries in the German avant-garde, but he's no less adventurous. The restrained, chamberlike quality of his playing translates as well to jaggedly mathematical improvisations as it does to long, gently burnished ones. His instruments of choice--clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax--line up toward the delicate end of the reed spectrum, which obviously contributes to the often hushed fragility of his music, but just as important is his sharp sense of drama and architecture. Nowhere are these traits more vividly on display than in his two most recent recordings: Gratkowski is best known to Chicagoans as a collaborator of Georg GrŠwe, and his remarkable performance on the pianist's quartet recording Melodie und Rhythmus (Okka Disk) shows Gratkowski's pretty lyricism and tonal clarity at work in the context of tight ensemble playing. The dense yet buoyant writing is perfect for Gratkowski, whether he's laying soft passages against brooding tumult or sailing over the top of some off-kilter swing pattern. He's equally ambidextrous on his new trio album, The Flume Factor (Random Acoustics), with bassist Dieter Manderscheid and drummer Gerry Hemingway: the slow-building explosion of puckered sound on the zigzagging opening cut "Epitasis" is a masterpiece of tension and resolution, but airy melody and limber dynamics are just as rewarding on the west-coast-flavored "California Roll." This performance is Gratkowski's first in Chicago without GrŠwe, and it will feature his formidable solo work; however, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, oboist Robbie Hunsinger, and other local guests are slated to sit in. The gig is also the inaugural concert in Hunsinger and Tim McLoraine's revived creative-music series, formerly at Xoinx Tea Room. Wednesday, 9 PM, Artemisia, 700 N. Carpenter, third floor; 312-226-7323. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.