April 23, 2020
Tatiana Komova/Almut Kühne/Alexey Kruglov/Gebhard Ullmann
Fancy Music Fancy 128
Intuition INT 3448-2
Trying out new sounds and new configurations has always been a leitmotif of the work of Gebhard Ullmann. As apt to show up as part of a Free improv group with trombonist Steve Swell as in an all-woodwind ensemble, the Berlin-based saxophonist/clarinetist ups his experimental quotient another notch with these CDs.
A full-fledged examination of microtones, mikroPULS is an all-German effort. It includes pianist Hans Lüdemann, a scholar who usually leads his own bands and specializes in using a sampler or virtual piano, drummer Eric Schaefer, who is also is in Michael Wollny’s trio; and bassist Oliver Potraz, who is additionally involved with notated music. The quartet plays eight microtonal compositions written by different band members. Completely different, Deuce Crossings is a meeting between Ullmann and Russian reedist Alexey Kruglov, with whom he has recorded previously, plus two singers. Dresden-native Almut Kühne is in duos with Ullmann, Anthony Coleman and also performs English Renaissance music. Meanwhile Ukrainian vocalist Tatyana Komova, who works with Kruglov, has performed Vivaldi, Bach, gypsy music plus avant garde improvisations.
Ignoring regional separation, the Komova/Kühne/Kruglov/Ullmann quartet moves through a 10-part suite that emphasizes as many tone and pitch modifications as the vocalists can muster as well as noises from so-called objects. Meanwhile as well as occasional vocal interjections, Ullmann plays tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and bass clarinet mouthpiece, while Kruglov solos on alto and prepared alto saxophone, saxophone mouthpiece and recorder. Not all these reed tones are peeps or garbled. In fact as part of the initial expositional, the response from the others to the vocalists dividing their output between lyric soprano trills and witch-like cackles is for the tenor saxophonist to propel horizontal vibrations while the alto saxophonist produces freak-note snarls and growls.
Tonal and atonal in turn, the four sometimes warble their parts into four-part harmony yet are as likely to splinter into duets, trios and solos, These contrapuntal motifs move the program’s sonic shading so that pitches and layering can be quiet, swirling, repetitive or mid-range with bel canto affiliations. In contrast Ullmann and Kruglov can explode with reed bites and blasts which circle around vocal resemblances to infant cries, bird cries, dramatic whispering yodeling or unexpected recitations in nonsense languages. These quick-change transformations are displayed at the greatest length on the penultimate track. As overwrought squawks and unaccented air currents pass through the horns’ mechanism, the vocalists change their hiccups, retches and tweets into lyrical harmonies which in turn push the saxophonists to create similar unison sequences in the range of bagpipe-like tremolos.
Musical rapport may result from the experimentation on Deuce Crossings and while a similar meeting of minds – and tones – may occur on the quartet disc, much of it is concerned with exposing the pulses and variations that lurk between the notes. Yet as often as division is expressed so is unity. Again like the other CD’s program, this one’s bounces from discursive sequences involving twanging piano string that appear detuned and ragged split tones propelled by the saxophonist, to instances of connective harmony. Not that experimentation is negated though. For instance, while Ullmann and Lüdemann may seem to be playing a romantic duet on the concluding “Zeit Lupe”, affection is expressed the way a distorted portrait of a woman by Picasso does – with slightly left-of-centre passion. It’s up to the pianist’s low-pitched impressionistic overlay to confirm the attitude.
The same sort of offbeat relaxation is evident on other tracks such as “Enge Bewegung”. But while Ullmann’s tongue flutters initially appear in perfect sympathy with sliding keyboard glissandi, the exposition still hardens via expansive power chording and harder blowing from the saxophonist. However this soft focus, expressed with sounds that are not difficult just different, usually take second place to more experimental thrusts for all concerned. But again this is done without upsetting the program’s progress. Drum shakes and double bass string slides may stir the pianist and saxophonist on “Ankunft” to clank keys and slide out high-pitched variations but coherence is established at the finale. Even “Tanz der Mikroben”, the most overtly experimental track, is more in the form of a realized experiment than a challenge. With Ullmann’s explosive reed surges midway between R&B and Free Jazz and Lüdemann’s swift patterning seemingly referencing serialism as much as Jazz improvisation, the invigorating climax has enough rhythm to be updated Herbie Nichols.
With equal slices of experimentation and affirmation, Ullmann shows that when confronted by sympathetic associates the size and tone of an ensemble doesn’t matter in his quest to produce notable creative sounds.
Track Listing: mikro: 1. Flutist with Hat and Shoe 2. Enge Bewegung 3. F.J.D. 4. Head Quarter 5. Ankunft 6. Human Body Upgrade 7. Tanz der Mikroben 8. Zeit Lupe
Personnel: mikro: Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone); Hans Lüdemann (piano and virtual piano); Oliver Potraz (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums)
Track Listing: Deuce: 1. Deuce Crossings 1 2. Deuce Crossings 2 3. Deuce Crossings 3 4. Deuce Crossings 4 5. Deuce Crossings 5 6. Deuce Crossings 6 7. Deuce Crossings 7 8. Deuce Crossings 8 9. Deuce Crossings 9 10. Deuce Crossings 10
Personnel: Deuce: Alexey Kruglov (alto and prepared alto saxophone, saxophone mouthpiece, recorder, voice); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, bass clarinet mouthpiece, voice); Tatiana Komova (voice, small percussion, noise objects, whistles); Almut Kühne (voice, noise objects)