Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
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Gebhard Ullmann
New Basement Research
Black Saint 121491

Gebhard Ullman - New Basement Research German reed player Ullmann splits his time between New York and Europe, and there’s something of a geo-cultural divide to his projects. While European ensembles like the all-reed Ta Lam Zehn and his Clarinet Trio emphasize reed voicings without the presence of a rhythm section, his American groups – the co-operative Conference Call with Michael Jefry Stevens, Joe Fonda and a series of drummers, for example – are strongly in the free jazz continuum. New Basement Research is definitely on the jazz side of the register, invoking a 1993 session by Ullmann which had Ellery Eskelin, Drew Gress, and Phil Haynes. The current band has trombonist Steve Swell (with whom Ullmann also co-leads a quartet), British saxophonist Julian Argüelles on soprano and baritone, John Hebert on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Ullmann plays compositions here that he’s previously recorded (some in several contexts) with groups ranging from his Clarinet Trio to the NDR Big Band; here the works are invested with a raw immediacy that can suggest one of the better Mingus bands. Basement Research may refer to a certain casual tone, to the low frequency of most of the horns (Ullmann favors his bass clarinet and plays tenor), or to an emphasis on musical roots. The group plays a vernacular free jazz, a raw, vocalic explosion of joy that’s rooted in a soulful shout, a collective improvisatory “tune-up” prior to the first head establishing a dynamic of order out of chaos that’s never far from the surface. The version of “Gospel” here has a village brass band back-up – worthy of the Ayler Brothers – to Ullman’s liquid sermon on bass clarinet, exploiting the instrument’s potential for a richly slurred and wobbling oration that unites him with its best players – sons of Dolphy all – like Rothenberg and Trovesi. Those low frequencies give the band great weight. It adds a kind of R & B heft to the proceedings that has Ullmann and Argüelles sounding like free jazz barwalkers on “Seven 9-8.” Swell’s bawdy bluster is worthy of Roswell Rudd, and there’s something in the collective improvisation of  “New No Ness” – led by Argüelles’ piquant soprano – that sounds like New Orleans polyphony fed through the history of jazz.  Cleaver and Hebert generate a mad swing, a constant prod that focuses the shared vocabulary of the horns, an almost surprised and common ground. It’s masterful as well as loose and joyous work, the kind of thing one is thankful for hearing.
-Stuart Broomer

 

Various Artists
that mysterious forest below London Bridge
Matchless MRCD70

Various Artists - that mysterious forest below London Bridge This CD presents three groups of free improvisers performing on the same night at the Shunt Lounge, an art bar located under London Bridge. It’s a fitting locale for the music heard here, which is both quintessentially English and virtually covert, both in the subtlety of its interactions and in its public presence. Each piece is titled by its performers and its date. The groups all fall within the AMM/Matchless aesthetic, the musicians being familiar from previous Matchless recordings, Eddie Prévost’s on-going improvisational practice and workshops and the Freedom of the City events. Whether the music employs discreet or continuous sound there’s a sense of spacious deliberation. If there’s a pattern to the sequence of groups, it’s reductive, beginning with a quartet, moving to a trio and concluding with a duo.

The first group is a quartet of Tom Chant on saxophones, Ross Lambert on guitar,
Sebastian Lexer on piano and laptop, and Matt Milton on violin. Whatever the instrumentation might suggest, it’s initially very close to percussion music: a hammered piano string, a plosive blast on the reed, assorted knocks and electric scrapes from the guitar, an attenuated high-pitched line from the violin. It moves along with continuous interest, its densities shifting, until it begins to build with a very gradual crescendo before subsiding again into a kind of mediated silence around the 16’ mark.

The second group is a trio of James Coleman on trumpet, Mark Wastell on Indian harmonium and Seymour Wright on alto saxophone, an odd mix of Wastell’s sometimes serene sustained sound and the vocalic yelps that Wright often favors here, though these, too, will merge in the sonic affinity of reeds. Extended techniques are used to the extent of disguising instrumental timbres even in this small acoustic ensemble (Wright can play alto for long stretches without putting it in his mouth). It’s sometimes hard to distinguish saxophone and trumpet. 

The final track belongs to the current two-man version of AMM, percussionist Prévost and pianist John Tilbury. It’s not the first such version of the group –  Prévost has participated in two-man versions of the pioneering improvisation ensemble with both Lou Gare and Keith Rowe – but it’s the most serene, working here from a series of scrape and cluster to passages so quiet that seem to embroider silence. Much of it is defined by Prévost’s scraped cymbals, an extended, piercing sound that seems to fluctuate between the sonorous and the abrasive by the millisecond. Tilbury articulates with a stunning grace, each note an act of exploration and commitment.
-Stuart Broomer

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