Erdmann Ullmann Lillinger Fink

E & U Mann
Wismart W 102

Taking a busman’s holiday from astutely crafted experimental sounds, German reedists Daniel Erdmann and Gebhard Ullmann combine for a loose blowing session that recalls the glory days of Griff & Lock or Jug & Sonny. Unlike the two-tenor saxophone duels of Johnny Griffin & Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis or Gene “Jug” Ammons and Sonny Stitt however, the Teutonic band follows a less rigid, but equally exhilarating track.

Another difference is that unlike those earlier saxophone duos, Ullmann brings his bass clarinet along. Plus the compositions are all originals, rather than the Blues and rhythmic tropes favored by those earlier tough tenor duals. In short, E & U Mann is also a rethink of the older concept meaning the soloing takes into account post-Coltrane advances and there’s no chordal instrument in sight. Ample excitement and sufficient backing comes courtesy of Johannes Fink’s firmly echoing double bass technique and the clanking inventiveness of drummer Christian Lillinger.

Fink, in fact, is often as upfront as the two tenors, with many tunes dependent on his mobile cross-pulsing to set the pace or steer the others into time and tempo changes. Lillinger knows his place, yet he too has as much sheep dog steering smarts as Fink, using his kit’s snaps, crackles and pops, plus cymbal clashes wisely.

From the top, it isn’t difficult to tell the tenors apart even when Ullman isn’t stabbing the sequences with incisively dissonant Eric-Dolphy like woodwind bites. Erdmann who now lives in France, leading bands like Das Kapital, has a more buoyant tone something heading into alto sax range; whereas Ullmann, whose groups include all-reed ensembles plus close connections with Yanks such as bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stephens, has lower-pitched output, with none of the necessary grit sieved from it.

Able to rupture narratives with the vigorous persuasion of Coltrane and Pharoah Sander – or Trane and Dolphy where appropriate – the reedists also harmonize cheerfully and efficiently. A speedy number such as “Estupido Hombre” finds both playing contralto, passing the lead with switchback motions. Above the bassist’s woody slaps and the drummer’s cymbal resonations, the resulting sound shards take on rondo qualifications as they’re layered.

The quartet is as effective on ballads like “Sterbende Nacht” as well. Here though, one tongue slaps and pushes wails through his clenched throat for staccato line emphasis, while the other constructs an obbligato while advancing the theme. The climax occurs as Fink’s staccato twanging turns to cello-like suppleness as the reeds meld for a calming ostinato. Other tracks expose the two front men adapting timbres from bass to altissimo range into the program, with as many squeezed out with toothpaste tube smoothness as jerkily meander along like a tubby pedestrian.

Significantly “Kleine Figuren No. 1” finds Ullman and Erdmann playing both roles. Beginning with body tube exploration that suggests turning horn tones inside out, they modulate into a swinging two tenor exposition and finally attain an intricate crescendo of mirrored horn lines thickened by the bassist’s string pressure.

Overall the CD impresses because the concept results in unselfconscious fun, while the saxophonists never abandons a commitment to modern reed and compositional exploration.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. New York 2. Kleine Figuren No. 3 3. The Dessert Story 4. Estupido Hombre 5. U und L 6. Fuel 7. Sterbende Nacht 8. Kleine Figuren No. 1 9. Zwei Variationen über das Thema von Johannes Fink

Personnel: Daniel Erdmann (tenor saxophone); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Johannes Fink (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums)