Gebhard Ullmann

New Basement Research
Soul Note 121491-2

More appropriately described as demonstrated results than research, this first-class presentation of low-end polyphony not only celebrates Berlin reedist Gebhard Ullmann’s 50th birthday, but also gives him a chance to reinterpret older compositions in new surroundings.

Regularly gigging in both Europe and North America, the tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist’s sidemen reflect his trans-Atlantic contacts. British soprano and baritone saxophonist Julian Argülles traded licks with Ullmann on a continental big band recording, while the other players are all New Yorkers. Trombonist Steve Swell co-leads a quartet with the Berliner, while bassist John Hebert and drummer Gerald Cleaver, functioning for the first time as the reedist’s rhythm team, aptly demonstrate why they’re among the busiest individuals in the city.

Ullmann, whose projects range from restrained chamber jazz to energetic Freebop (see CODA 335) recasts his compositions to reflect the quintet’s rip-snorting capabilities. Case in point is “Seven 9-8”. Driven by Cleaver’s backbeat ruffs and Hebert’s woody slap-bass, there’s plenty of support for baritone sax snorts, sloppy, slurry trombone blurts and tongue-stopping squeals from the tenor saxophone. Precision isn’t neglected either with the head recapped with a flourish of a capella horn harmonies.

“D. Nee No” started life as a tango, but under the powerful ministrations of New Orleans-born Hebert and backbeat parade drumming from Cleaver, it now leans towards Second Line strut. Contrapuntally explored by pedal point blasts from Swell – who plays more in a tailgate style elsewhere – the piece is undeniably kept modern by Ullmann’s mid-range clarinet reed-biting.

Supple and sensitive, the seven-track CD is an appropriate gift for both the leader and listeners.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 338