Ballads and other related objects
Leo CD LR 415

Third time lucky, BALLADS is a CD-long suite that shows how well the components of this German-based ensemble intermesh for maximum effect. The trio’s third CD, it intensifies the band’s connective language over the course of 13 tunes, all except for the four instant compositions, written by bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann.

Greater improvisational sophistication may be another reason this CD bests its predecessors. Joining Ullmann, and clarinetist Jürgen Kupke, who also plays with him in the multi-reeds-and-accordion group Ta Lam Zehn, is new member Michael Thieke. Thieke, whose background encompasses group improv with practitioners like German trumpeter Axel Dörner and Italian saxophonist Alessandro Bosetti, replaces a player whose background is in composed music.

You note the breath of the communication throughout. Although Ullmann, who plays saxophones elsewhere with big bands and in more rhythmically conventional aggregations, describes the trio as “playing jazz”, it bears no resemblance to the soloist and accompanist model. Clarinet trios have a glorious history in the music after all –

Duke Ellington frequently wrote for this particular voicing – and AACMer Douglas Ewart’s clarinet choir used up to six reedmen to show off the instrument’s weave in the 1980s and 1990s.

Although you may not realize it, this trio only uses three of the clarinet family’s members. New boy Thieke plays alto clarinet and regular clarinet, which means that he can blend with either the higher or lower pitched vibrations of the others.

Particularly memorable is “29 Shoes”, which has the sort of comprehensive tone Jimmy Giuffre could have produced if, in his 1960s’ minimalist phase, he had written “Four Brothers” for clarinets instead of saxophones. One the head is sounded, each instrument goes on its own path in triple, complementary counterpoint. With the bass clarinet resonating pedal point, the other two shift circular tones sometimes noticeably away from the mic, until half way through. Then fluttering cadences and double-tongued squeals are succeeded by cascading glissandi up to higher-pitched wiggles and trills, which finally downshift to a moderato lockstep end.

Built around a buoyant and elastic new arrangement, “Almost Twenty-Eight” is filled with peeping and trilling lines in broken octaves which produce a mental picture of an early silent movie traffic jam, featuring cars careening every which way. A cappella, Kupke takes off on a squealing, irregular vibrated solo, finally extended with hocketing asides from the other two. Ceasing that and tongue-stopping a stentorian bass clarinet tone, he allows the chalumeau register clarinet to carry the melodic line again, climaxing with a secondary breath heard along with the thematic line.

Expressive, expansive, tongue-slapping and tongue-stopping, expelling skyscraper tones and subterranean rumbles, the three wooden horns meld, modulate and float. They produce opposing hunting horn timbres or single-note unison if needed. Keeping the parameters of the suite in mind with three variations of “Déjà Vu”, each exhibits his flexibility on brief instant compositions as well as “Desert... Bleue... East”. Involving sinuous reed undulations that unroll languendo and seem to define the three, textures, that tune includes scene setting trills, scrappy flutter tonguing and roistering harmonics.

More impressionistic than some of the other tracks, this piece confirms that trio’s unique interpretation of the balladic concept.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Déjà Vu (variation 1) 2. Seven 9 - 8 3. Collective No. 9 (Part 1-4) 4. Almost Twenty-Eight 5.Variations on a Theme by Claude Debussy 6. Collective No. 10 (Lines) 7. 29 Shoes 8. Collective No. 11 (Hohe Objekte) 9. Verschiedene Annäherungen an den Ton Ges 10. Déjà Vu (Theme) 11. Desert... Bleue... East 12. Collective No. 12 (Ballad) 13. Déjà Vu (variation 2)

Personnel: Jürgen Kupke (clarinet); Michael Thieke (alto clarinet and clarinet); Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet)