January 5, 2000
KREUZBERG PARK EAST
Soul Note 121371-2
North Americans only familiar with Gebhard Ullmann for his 10-piece Te Lam reeds and accordion project, which toured the festival circuit last summer, will probably be quite surprised by this disc. Unlike that larger group, which seemed as much "folkloric" or "classical" as jazz, this compact quartet is the German reedist's blowing band.
As a matter of fact there are times, particularly on a tune such as "Almost Twenty-Eight", where KREUZBERG PARK EAST almost sounds like a "tough tenor session" from the likes of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin or Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Or, at least, it sounds as much like a sax battle can sound in the post-mo 1990s.
Of course, multi-reedist Ullmann doesn't limit himself to tenor, but effectively adds a bit of basement color on several tunes with his bass clarinet.
It helps that Ullman's compatriots here are three non-sectarian, so-called New York downtowners, as conversant with funky blues as the newest Eurocentric musical twists. Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, who has an admitted fondness for Ammons aids in this, while drummer Phil Haynes and bassist Drew Gress have plied their craft behind enough soloists, "out" and otrherwise, to know how to goose things along.
Paradoxically, it seems that the faster, more-overtly rhythmic numbers such as the blues "Blaues Lied" or "The T.T. Walk" — where a modified Braxton bounce giving way to a fine straightahead bass solos from Gress — work better than the more overtly impressionistic compositions. Those, such as the title track or "Flutist with Hat and Shoe", seem to be caught somewhere in the Atlantic ocean, half way between Ullman's German home and his pied a terre in Brooklyn.
More troubling it often appears that the titles of some of the tracks — all of which are Ullmann compositions — are just as intriguing as the compositions themselves. Who is the hat-wearing flutist and what is the TT walk, for instance?
While fans of any of the musicians here will find much to like on this CD, this more- than-three-year-old session doesn't seem like a definite Ullmann statement. Maybe he'll have to decide on which side of the Atlantic he's most comfortable before it appears.
Ullmann (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet); Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Drew Gress (bass); Phil Hayes (drums)