Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band

Jazz Werkstatt JW 054

Looking for a personalized unbeatable definition of post-modern music? How about wanting to experience the compositions and arrangements of someone who has taken the mid-sized band concepts of Charles Mingus into the 21st Century? Guess what, the same person typifies both. It’s Berlin-based pianist/composer Ulrich Gumpert. Suites by his Workshop Band – note the echo of Mingus’ Jazz Workshop – is yet another exciting example of his talent.

For years a member and chief composer of Zentralquartett, the former East Germany’s most accomplished small group, Gumpert had been simultaneously writing and recording with a top-flight 12-piece Workshop Band. Suites however highlights the 63-year-old Gumpert’s accommodation with the generation of improvisers that followed his own, plus recognition of the economies of scale. The now eight-piece Workshop Band is populated by some of the most accomplished young Berlin-based improvisers including reedist Ben Abarbanel-Wolff, who works with bassist Sirone; drummer Michael Grenier who plays with saxophonist – and Zentralquartett member – Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky; Monks Casino bassist Jan Roder; and reedist Michael Thieke, part of the well-regarded Clarinet Trio.

Abarbanel-Wolff’s post-Aylerian cries and multiphonics supply the POMO fillip to the bulky Volkslieder melodies on which “Aus Teutschen Landen” is based. Taking a page from the sort of anthemic deconstruction favored by Carla Bley, the Thuringia-born pianist’s arrangement alternates straight renditions of the folk tunes with splashy solo deconstruction – in this case hard and heavy irregular diaphragm smears from the saxophonist. Added to the extended exposition are flute peeps, secondary stops and tonguing from other horns plus whinnying wah-wahs from trombonist Christof Thewes – who is part of another trio with Roder and Grenier. Overall the result sound like what would have happened if John Coltrane and Rashied Ali were duetting in front of an open window above a street on which a lederhosen-wearing brass band was marching past.

These tramping feet motifs are extended still further throughout the rest of the suite, which also makes allusions to specific periods in musical history. When call-and-response choruses, first just from Thieke’s clarinet and Martin Klingeberg’s trumpet, and then parceled out among members of the whole octet kick in, the overtones exposed could come from brass bands, classic jazz combos or even New music ensembles. Grenier doesn’t stint in exercising the wood block and sizzle cymbals; Arabanel-Wolff provides discursive squeals and flutter-tongued squeaks, while Hendrik Walsdorff’s alto punctuation lurches forward with honks and altissimo cries. Roder either advances timbres with crab-like spiccato, as if he was playing minimalist chamber music, or slaps his bass strings à la Pops Foster.

Eventually “Kommt, Ihr G’Spielen” neatly wraps all the sonic allusions up with sky-high brass triplets cutting through cumulative blaring measures plus broken-octave expositions. The trumpeter’s rubato breaks and jazzy shakes eventually creep from mid-range to a stop-time climax that also brings in the other horns.

The other suites here are just as impressive, especially the tripartite “Sinfonietta”, which glides moderato and andante from its dodecaphonic origins to a warmer and more dramatic interface. By mid-point the composition opens up into showcases for both Abarbanel-Wolff’s slash-and-burn reed overblowing and Thewes’ gutbucket and grainy chromatic cries – which are closer to Roswell Rudd than Gumpert’s Zentralquartett, confrere Conrad Bauer. Eventually the pianist’s own cadenzas signal a thematic shift which downsizes the band’s reverberating echoes and inaugurates hushed chords so that Roder’s contrapuntal string striations can be heard slowly transforming into moderato, Paul Chambers-like plucks, carefully designed so as not to upset the andante broken-octave line. A finale perfectly balances rutting horn trills and kettle-drum-like rolls which would sound at home in any Bavarian symphony.

No matter the ensemble size, it appears that Gumpert has the compositions and arrangements to produce memorable music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Aus Teutschen Landen: 1. Es Fiel Ein Reif In Der Frühlingsnatcht 2. Tanz Mir Nicht Mit Meiner Jungfer Käthen 3. A) Der Maie Der Maie B) Es Sass Ein Schneeweiss’ Vögelein 4. Kommt, Ihr G’Spielen Sinfonietta: 5. Part I 6. Part II 7. Part III H-M Suite: 8. Part I 9. Part II 3. Tango

Personnel: Martin Klingeberg (trumpet); Christof Thewes (trombone); Michael Thieke (alto saxophone and clarinet); Henrik Walsdorff (alto saxophone); Ben Abarbanel-Wolff ( tenor saxophone and flute); Ulrich Gumpert (piano); Jan Roder (bass) and Michael Griener (drums)