Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

July 30, 2009


A surprisingly diverse release from this unusual guitar and drum combination. Bratoeff and Vatalaro paint miniatures in sound

French born guitarist Jonathan Bratoeff has lived and worked in London for a few years now. He is a versatile player who has worked in a number of contexts as a member of the F-ire Collective and beyond. Besides appearing on the début CD by the band Porpoise Corpus ( an album reviewed elsewhere on this site) he has also recorded two previous albums on the F-ire label as a leader. “Between Lines” (2004) is a relatively straightforward date considering that the personnel includes both Pete Wareham and Seb Rochford. However the splendid “Points Of Perception”(2005) is far more adventurous and makes use of an extended sonic palette incorporating the judicious use of electronica. This second disc is highly recommended.
“Chapters” sees Bratoeff stepping back from the wide-screen approach of “Points Of Perception”. This new release is more into minimalism with Bratoeff’s only collaborator being the American drummer Chris Vatalaro, now also a London resident. I’ve not heard Vatalaro before but his credits include work with the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Elysian Fields, Matana Roberts, Adem, Ingrid Laubrock,Basquiat Strings and Richard Fairhurst. It’s an impressive role call.

The pairing of just guitar and drums is an unusual and some might think unpromising combination. However “Chapters” is a surprisingly diverse release covering a variety of styles in a series of fourteen miniatures with a total playing time of just under forty minutes. 

The duo begin in ambient mood on the collaborative “The Muybridge Line"with Bratoeff’s heavily looped and treated guitar shadowed by the rustle and rumble of Vatalaro’s drums. The mood here is eerie, spacey and vaguely unsettling.
The guitarist’s “Nothing Certain” alters the mood totally. The mood is pastoral and conversational with Bratoeff deploying a more orthodox “jazz guitar” sound. There are echoes of Frisell and Metheny in his sound, particularly in the echoing, ethereal coda.

A number of tracks see the duo adding their own input to the framework of a jazz standard to effectively come up with a new composition. Miles Davis’ “Solar” benefits from Vatalaro’s atmospheric, shimmering percussion and Bratoeff’s pointillist guitar. 

“Alone Together” explores similar territory to the opener albeit in more melodic fashion with Vatalaro’s drums often taking the foreground as Bratoeff’s effects swoop around him. It’s surprisingly effective. The mood is retained for the following “The Marcellus Shale”, a brief and atmospheric episode for solo percussion.

Bratoeff’s “Soon”  occupies slightly more orthodox territory, shades of Frisell again perhaps, while the co-written “A Chapter Ends” sees Bratoeff experimenting with both rock and jazz guitar sounds in an improvisatory setting. “Wire Floor” a very brief passage for a decidedly odd sounding guitar concludes this section of the record.

The duo then offer their interpretations on a series of tunes by some of the great jazz composers beginning with Thelonious Monk’s “Locomotive”. Their good natured, idiosyncratic approach more than does justice to a typically charming and quirky Monk composition.

“Lazy Bird” is another look at a composition by one of the giants of jazz, in this case John Coltrane.

The steady patter of Vatalaro’s drums sets the pace accompanied by Bratoeff’s slippery chording. This is an enjoyable interpretation of another winning tune.
Both the Monk and Coltrane pieces are delivered relatively straight but the pair radically imagine “Body and Soul”, turning the famous old ballad into something far more abstract but thoroughly absorbing for all that.
A brief rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come” is rendered haunting and mysterious by Bratoeff’s ghostly guitar whine as he again evokes the spirit of Frisell’s Americana. I rather enjoyed this, but this haunting snippet is frustratingly brief. However the following “Cherokee” taken at an exaggeratedly languid pace helps to make up for it. 

A joint original “Augur In The Coal Mine” concludes the album and combines the trio’s straight ahead and ambient tendencies in the course of a single tune.
“Chapters” is a thoroughly engaging album that holds the listener’s attention through it’s range of colours and textures. Bratoeff and Vatalaro are not interested in merely showing their virtuosity although both, of course are highly skilled. They are more concerned in creating an atmosphere and painting miniatures in sound. Their versions of the standard tunes they tackle are consistently interesting and offer a uniquely different look at their subject matter.

Bratoeff is the main focus merely because the guitar and it’s related electronics offers a wider range of sounds than the drum kit but Vatalaro is the perfect foil, shadowing the guitarist with grace and acumen. The drummer never imposes himself unnecessarily but does provide light, shade and rhythmic impetus in all the right places.

The only criticism of this album is that some of these pieces are too short and end too quickly after an atmosphere has been established. On reflection I guess this is better than the kind of bombastic nonsense others might summon from this combination of instruments.

“Chapters” may have less broad appeal than some of Bratoeff’s other releases but it is a success on it’s own terms and is well worthy of investigation by inquisitive listeners. Frisell fans in particular should give this album a go.

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