October 24, 2022

of Berlin
ESP 5054

The Chicago Plan
For New Zealand
NotTwo MW 1018-2

Veteran Berlin-based reedist Gebhard Ullmann works out spiky and contrapuntal improvisations on these sessions each featuring a uniquely cultivated but sophisticated trombonist. While recorded about 18 months apart with distinctively sized combos, there’s no divergent of invention and skill between the fully improvised sets. GULFH features Ullmann’s tenor saxophone and bass clarinet matched with the trombone and sousaphone of German Gerhard Gschlössl, bassist/cellist Johannes Fink, drummer Jan Leipnitz and Michael Haves’ live sound processing — Berliners all. During the 10 selections the groups slides through sonic references that mix brass band echoes with electro-acoustic currents. Skip forward two years and The Chicago Plan also includes a cellist, Fred Lonberg-Holm, who also manipulates electronics. But while he and drummer Michael Zerang have Windy City associations, trombonist Steve Swell is a New Yorker, and Ullman is as German as bratwurst.

Gschlössl, who has worked with Globe Unity and Ullmann with his own bands and Conference Call, project this admixture with worldly ease. When he isn’t propelling menacing slurs or portamento slides and triplets, the brass player’s sousaphone ostinato projects a Classic Jazz pulse, no less than his tailgate smears. This is apparent as early as “Nether”, the first track, which despite its brass burps cohabitates with drum clicks, reed bites and voltage oscillations wrapped up in duple meter. Expressive half-valve trombone rips, double-bass-like thumps from the cellist and chalumeau scoops from Ullman turn “Tellus” into a hard blues, while the brief “Mann aus dem Himmel” is high-pitched swing showcasing reed honks and Haves’ rugged voltage shudders.

Fink’s taut string pushes and sul ponticello slides, Leipnitz’s cymbal crashes and patterns as well as Haves’ intense voltage hisses are prominent elsewhere. Throughout though the quintet members frequently intersect and detach timbres for maximum coloration, with trombone huffs sometimes paired with electrified wave forms and reed variations challenging cello sweeps, “5 Elements” is a purposeful depiction of this. Staccato jabs from the strings, a martial drum beat, brass trombone smears and reed doits and split tones are sutured together as churning counterpoint descends from andante to adagio with drum ruffs signaling the finale.

With no clue as to why the antipodean island is being saluted, the misnamed quartet on the other CD creates a kaleidoscope of shifting electro-acoustic motifs, with three each composed by Swell or Ullmann. Like the German saxophonist/clarinet, all the Americans have extensive experience playing with fellow textural experiments throughout the world. They plunge into the music as if this is a regular working group. First up “Composite 13-For New Zealand” starts with slurring double counterpoint from Swell and Ullmann soon punctured by voltage pinpoints and squeals from the cellist. By mid-point Zerang’s clip-clops confirm linear motion as horn multiphonics introduce all manner of double tonguing, tongue slaps and cries. An abrupt stop following a silent pause completes the piece with cello string swells. Other tracks, feature reed expressions splaying upwards, cat yowl from the cellist, subtle off beats from the drummer and Swell’s speedy glissandi introducing poised musical elation. Ullmann also demonstrates a nanosecond jump from swing to overblowing on “Yoyo” with the others riffing behind him. However it’s Swell’s “Sketch 6” which gives each player expanded space for self expression. Strained cello stops intersect with percussion rumbles as reed slurps and plunger trombone tones overlap. At mid-point Zerang bangs out a pseudo Bop march on what sound like empty metal cans, which is slowly deconstructed as the tempo accelerates. Finally, cello slices, cymbal rim shots and furry slides from Swell righten the exposition to a concentrated finale.

Whether dealing with compositions or full-fledged improvisations Ullmann wields his instruments with necessary finesse, strength and invention. Each of these German or American combos provide the perfect context in which to experience ethe players. skills.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: GULFH: 1. Nether 2. K3 3. Joja Romp 4. GG 5. Tellus 6. Serenade 7. Prisoner’s Dilemma 8. Mann aus dem Himmel 9. 5 Elements 10. Jeton

Personnel: GULFH: Gerhard Gschlössl (trombone, sousaphone); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Johannes Fink (bass, cello); Jan Leipnitz (drums, objects) and Michael Haves (live sound processing)

Track Listing: For: 1. Composite 13 – For New Zealand 2. Welcome to the Red Island 3. Sketch 6 4. Yoyo 5. BA-8 6. Variations On A Master (Part 1)

Personnel: For: Steve Swell (trombone); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and Michael Zerang (drums)