Music in store 

Frank Gratkowski shakes the earth in East Atlanta

Earthshaking Music, Dec. 2 -- A show at East Atlanta's Earthshaking Music is unlike one at any other club in town. For one thing, Earthshaking Music functions primarily as a musical instrument store. Arriving early isn't a problem because the place is filled with exotic percussion instruments, from Tibetan gongs to Latin claves, and sampling the sounds can be a great way to alleviate any pre-show boredom and anticipation. Upon entering the store, shopcats Boogie and Jeebus greet and frequently lead show seekers to the performance space in the back.

Dim lighting and a small stage help set the ambiance to a comfortable and intimate level. Although no beer is served, the music here is usually enough to intoxicate even the most seasoned creative-music devotees. On this particular night, German multi-instrumentalist and one-man sound machine, Frank Gratkowski, had all the right ingredients.

Although frequently labeled a classical jazz player, Gratkowski covered a lot of ground that could be considered anything but traditional. He started off on the alto saxophone and wasted no time throwing curveballs at the small but attentive audience. Many European saxophonists have mastered schizophrenic styles of playing, but rarely can they present them all with such fluidity. Gratkowski played up and down his horn in the vein of avant garde reedman Anthony Braxton, seamlessly interjecting exclamations, pops and blurts while retaining his momentum.

Proving himself a master of multiphonics and even psychoacoustics, Gratkowski pulled off a wonderful segment, harmonizing with himself by combining the humming, singing and playing of whole notes. It takes a lot of control to match and manipulate a tone with such precision, and Gratkowski clearly demonstrated his command. At times the mood changed abruptly, but beautifully, like a flock of birds altering course. Gratkowski even showed he could get goosey on the master of skronk himself: Peter Brotzmann.

Squealing and squawking were only a small part of the program, though. At one moment, Gratkowski manipulated his saxophone to seemingly imitate the analog synthesizers of Robert Moog, while the next moment his horn would create dynamics similar to that of furious cello playing. Switching to clarinet, Gratkowski then set out to reinvent that instrument as well. Carefully breathing, hissing and slurping through the instrument, he created the sensation of multiple radiators pouring off steam around the room. Now and then a note would float out and transform the sounds into a sort of lullaby.

During a season when so many people are sick, amazingly, not a cough or throat-clearing could be heard in the audience -- complete silence, except for the sounds emitting from the stage. When Gratkowski finished his solo performance, one listener was overheard commenting, "Now, there were some sounds I've never heard before." He hit the nail on the head.

The local duo of trumpeter Roger Ruzow (Gold Sparkle Band) and drummer Brian Fielding had a tough time following Gratkowski, but still managed to create some nice moments reminiscent of Ornette Coleman alumni Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell's duo outings. After a short set, the duo returned with the aide of Gratkowski for a pair of improvised collaborations. The trio felt their way around and ended up with some incredible moments of concurrence, with all three stopping and starting on a dime. Their second number, in which Gratkowski played clarinet, contained a weird, recurring dream-sequence theme, simultaneously haunting and playful, that left the audience somewhere between Little Red Riding Hood and Grandmother's house.

In the final configuration, Gratkowski and Ruzow paired off for a piece that offered shades of Tadd Dameron's "Hot House." It was a good number with which to end. After an evening of adventurous solos, duos and a trio, a snappy tune seemed to set the audience right for the cold trip home.

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