March 3, 2018
The Chicago Plan
Clean Feed CF 396 CD
WhyPlayJazz RS 036
Despite more than 30 years of recording and about twice that number of CD appearances with everyone from American pianist Michael Jefry Stevens to Swiss accordionist Hans Hassler, Berlin-based multi-reedist Gebhard Ullmann is still finding new musical avenues to explore. The Chicago Plan for instance, finds him on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet in an ad-hoc ensemble with frequent associate, New York trombonist Steve Swell, plus locals, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Michael Zerang, for a brand of energetic free improvising. The trio on Das Kondensat in contrasts finds him moving into digital technologies and electro-acoustic, heavily beat-oriented playing with the bass and analog effects of Oliver Potratz plus Eric Schaefer’s drums and modular synthesizer complemented by Ullmann’s work on tenor and soprano saxophones, looper and sampler.
No throwback, but reminiscent of those spirited 1960s and 1970s dates saxophonist Archie Shepp recorded alongside trombonists Roswell Rudd or Grachan Moncur III, the Chicago CD divides the composition credits between the horn players and gives everyone ample space for wide screen, polyphonic expression. Projecting, often fortissimo at many levels at once, the only respite is “Variations on a Master Plan (Part 2)”. This pacific interlude is the only time when Lonberg-Holm’s moderato bowing doesn’t stray far from the expected timbres of the cello. Other than that the tracks earn the sobriquet of Energy Music, with the horn players’ hard-core improvising often done in tandem or contrapuntally, Zerang unleashes an agglomeration of unexpected beats and patterning, while the cellist uses electronic fillips to expand, alter and fracture textures into sharpened projectiles. Another strategy used to good effect on “Rule #1: Make Sure You Can Play Your Own Tune”, splits the quartet. Cello splashes and judders complete low-pitched reed vibrations, while the trombonist’s exaggerated plunger smears are abetted by the drummer’s clearly paced rolls and pops.
More germane to compound creativity and wide open spaces the four take full advantage of on a track like “Lady in the Sky”. Consisting of several sequences, the piece builds up from Zerang’s concise backbeat and then detonates into a Free Jazz exposition, with the band tearing into the theme with the skill and ferocity of The Jazz Messengers playing “Blues March” for the first time. Besides Lonberg-Holm’s stop-time trills, horizontally tough flutter tonguing from Swell, Ullmann’s vigor when spitting out tones with Ak-47 speed and Zerang’s hard beats keep it all together.
Together is adjective that could also be used in describing Das Kondensat’s disc. Despite the mechanized geegaws heard during its 11 tracks, the trio ensures the electronics don’t dominate. Schaefer after all works in more conventional Jazz settings with Joachim Kühn’s and Michael Wollny’s trios, while Potratz was a member of the Klima Kalima band. While “Variations On A Master Plan #3” that opens the disc may be permeated by gurgling tones, echoing buzzes and tension-wire-like drones, the trio quickly brushes them aside to expose the boisterous theme helped along by Potratz’s thumping bass line and Schaefer’s supple drum beats. Here and elsewhere the looper allows Ullmann to expand his echoing reed lines as if he was plugged into a Varitone device. Other tracks are more atmospheric than unbending, with wave form processing having to do with that. Still others serve as individual showcases. “Dubbing with Guy” for instance, finds Ullmann fragmenting his reed exposition into reflective slivers, displaying multiphonic paths and timbre-extensions as if they were details of a painting displayed on an easel created from Schaefer’s pumping bottom groove.
Finally the cumulative power of this power trio is made most obvious on the penultimate and concluding “Kitsch #2” and “Ich atmete Luft von anderen Planeten”. A thumb-popped bass line that modulates astride electronic drones finally mixes with reed buzzing on the former to construct a vibrating climax. Picking up from that, the concluding “Ich atmete Luft von anderen Planeten” is awash with buzzes and echoes. Wiggling speed allows Ullmann to state the theme in a combative manner. He may be breathing air from other planets, but the textures he twists on this one, coupled with the rhythm section’s buzzing continuum makes this instanced of das kondensat or condensation open enough to feel the swing alongside the groove.
Free Jazz followers may prefer the first CD; those involved with electronica the second. What both confirm is that more experiments in different Jazz-based forms can still be expected from Ullmann.
Track Listing: Chicago: 1. Variations on a Master Plan (Part 3) 2. Composite 10 3. Variations on a Master Plan (Part 2) 4. Rule #1: Make Sure You Can Play Your Own Tune 5. Déjà vu; For Henry
Personnel: Chicago: Steve Swell (trombone); Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and Michael Zerang (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Das: 1. Variations on A Master Plan #3 2. Lady in the Sky 3. Ich atme Luft von anderen Planeten 4. Dubbing with Guy 5. Shox 6. Grizzly Bear 7. Desert... Bleue... East 8. Rugged 9. Five Slash Seven 10. Kitsch #2 11. Ich atmete Luft von anderen Planeten
Personnel: Das: Gebhard Ullmann (tenor and soprano saxophones, looper and sampler); Oliver Potratz (bass and analog effects) and Eric Schaefer (drums and modular synthesizer)