Monday, 24 March 2008

Gebhard Ullmann part II...

Any remaining readers will have noticed that I've just done a bit of a re-design of this page. The backdrop to the header is a crop of a sunset taken last year in Cape Town, and a product of my adventures with Apple's great new Aperture 2 software. Fascinating, eh?

On to the business in hand. Another Ullmann disc, this time a return to jazzier waters. Yet again I'm not unequivocally supportive, and it's not a disc I've played since I wrote the review 18 months ago. It does have a neat cover though...

Cut It Out
Leo Records (CDLR 457)

Cut It Out Part One - Grid Speak; Calling Mr Waits No. 1; U.S.O. Ballad; Lolligager; No Mouthpiece. Cut It Out Part Two - Calling Mr Waits No. 2; Mbira; Walking Under Trains; Bass/Bass; Epilog (Ballad No.2).

Gebhard Ullmann (bcl/bfl); Chris Dahlgren (b/elec); Jay Rosen (d/perc). Recorded March 2000.

Last year’s Bass x3 (Drimala Records) marked a return to form for the somewhat inconsistent German reedsman Gebhard Ullmann. That disc confirmed his affinity for the lower registers, and as with the present recording is more fruit from his New York sabbatical. Cut It Out is in some respects a peace offering to those who fondly recall Ullmann’s jazzier work with Ellery Eskelin (Soul Note) but feared that he’d flown the nest. His new disc runs the gamut from free jazz through to the most ‘lower case’ style of improvisation, where sounds are so micro they sometimes barely register.

Recorded in bassist Chris Dahlgren’s living room, the sound stage is nevertheless fuller than with the CIMP “Spirit Room” series in which you’d normally hear drummer Jay Rosen. The opening piece, “Grid Speak”, has Ullmann on bass clarinet, pecking over Dahlgren and Rosen’s small movements. When a direction emerges Ullmann displays the kind of ghostly trill made famous by Albert Ayler. “U.S.O. Ballad” is a beautiful meditative piece which Ullmann takes on bass flute, whilst the closing movement of ‘Part One’ of this improvised suite, “No Mouthpiece”, is by contrast a structureless exploration of sound textures, gaining curious momentum through carefully controlled scrapes and drones. As the piece draws to a close Rosen builds tension with some timely cymbal punctuation as Ullmann once more soars like Ayler. ‘Part Two’ opens with more bass flute on “Calling Mr Waits No. 2”. Not quite funky in the Herbie Mann sense, it does however have something of a groove to it.

“Walking Under Trains” is the most overtly jazz influenced piece, the trio coming together for a loose free-bop romp that reminded me of Ken Vandermark’s greatly missed Steelwool Trio. Finishing with another quiet ballad, Cut It Out is certainly rich in sonic detail, if not colour. Any recommendation must be addressed solely to the hard-core of this difficult music’s followers, as such music would be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. With no shortage of high wire improvising, including passages of total abstraction, there is nevertheless always an anchoring structure close at hand. Cut It Out offers something for everybody within improvisation’s avant-garde, and should not disappoint.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, September 2006)

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