April 27, 2019
Gebhard Ullmann & Basement Research
Impromtus and Other Short Works
WhyPlayJazz WPJ 045
Umland 19/el NEGOCITO eNR 088
Proving once again his adaptability and the welcome he gets from European-based bands two of New York trombonist Steve Swell’s newest CDs highlight his contributions to ostensibly German-based combos. Both are invested with the same dynamic. One session situates him within the newest iteration of Berlin-based tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann’s Basement Research. With low-pitched exploration an apt metaphor for the affiliated sextet Plant, the other CD demonstrates the re-imagining of the sextet sounds from a band that started as a trio in 2004.
Consisting of 11 Ullmann compositions, the first disc’s tunes are also interpreted by French-German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, Brit-in-Austria baritone saxophonist Julian Argüelles and busy American drummer Gerald Cleaver. Meanwhile the newly named 2000 band, whose dozen tunes was mostly written by Münster-based alto and bass saxophonist Jan Klare or are group improvisations, now includes Amsterdam bassist Wilbert de Joode, Belgian trumpeter Bart Maris, American drummer Michael Vatcher and German cellist Elisabeth Coudoux.
With many of the Basement Research tracks built around interplay among baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and the trombone’s lowest pitches, the group name is particularly apt. At the same time Swell isn’t content to concentrate cellar tones. On the slow-paced “Kleine Figuren” he exhibits some winning Tommy Dorsey-like sweetness, while “29 Shoes” features slurring brass riffs as part of a FreeBoppy stomp whose live feel is also communicated by bass string slaps and ringing cymbal snaps. Low-pitched brass blats do predominate on “Almost Twenty-Eight”, but the melody propelled by Ullmann’s often altissimo-range brass clarinet suggests what could have happened if Eric Dolphy had sat in with Frank Zappa. Elsewhere close-knit vamps from the harmonized horns provide backdrops upon which each of the musicians can excel. “Lines - Impromptu #2” is one of Swell’s spotlight turns with his harsh interface stretching over broken chord motion, moving from narrowed, fuzzy throat clenching timbres to splattering tailgate plunges. In terms of group work however, the most descriptive track is “Impromptu #1”, where stacked horn lines give way to a tenor saxophone narrative consisting of Ullmann’s timbres gradually pushing up the scale until joined by lockstep echoes from Swell and backed by string sweeps from the bassist and rumbles from the drummer.
With more textures available with extra instruments, Plant’s tracks range from the amiable to the agitated to the atonal. For instance the set begins with “garden “, a cultured slice of harmonized then splintered horn parts that ends with broken chord climaxes from plunger trombone and shrill reeds. A lively rhythm tune, the penultimate “more shells” mixes savory plucks from the bassist, souped-up cello slices, and horn parts ranging from mid-section harmony to whistling alto saxophone bites. The preceding “teasy venus” however presages a detour into foot-tapping pseudo-Dixieland. It includes rumbles, splatters and pops from Vatcher that solidify into a march to blend with de Joode’s walking bass, Maris’ trumpet whinnies and Swell’s tailgate smears. Still other tracks portray this blend of dynamics and delights by keeping the interaction resolutely 21st Century. For instance “rott” is defined by how the theme sneaks out after mixed bellows and growls from the low-pitched trombone and the high-pitched trumpet, evolves into a stop-time march and climaxing at steeplechase speeds. Most crucially, de Joode’s intermittent double-timed bass plucks and a swelling pizzicato exposition from Coudoux on “wobble” ignore the title to become intense as ring-modulator-like gonging and buzzing reed timbres fill the sound field.
Each of these ensembles has created a significant cadenced session. And Swell’s synergic contributions help boost the programs to even higher standards.
Track Listing: Impromtus: 1. Gospel 2. Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5 3. Impromptu #1 4. 29 Shoes 5. Kleine Figuren 6, Lines - Impromptu #2 7. Shifting Tonalities - Impromptu #3 8. Air 9. Sticks - Impromptu #4 10. For Jim - Impromptu #6 11. Almost Twenty-Eight
Personnel: Impromtus: Steve Swell (trombone); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Julian Argüelles (baritone saxophone); Pascal Niggenkemper (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)
Track Listing: Plant: 1. garden 2. shells 3. clown for breakfast 4. bells 5. chills 6. toss 7. rott 8. shills 9. wobble 10. teasy venus 11. more shells 12. wolves bells
Personnel: Plant: Bart Maris (trumpet); Steve Swell (trombone): Jan Klare (alto and bass saxophones); Elisabeth Coudoux (cello): Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Michael Vatcher (drums)