It's a Gebhard Ullmann Two-Fer!: BassX3 – Transatlantic and The Clarinet Trio – 4 (2012)

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feature photo: Jos l. Knaepen

The multi-talented reedist Gebhard Ullmann splits his time between his native Berlin and New York but more impressively, he also splits his time leading or co-leading no less than eight workings bands (including the previously discussed The Ullmann|Swell 4), has recently embarked on four more projects, and is already a member of at least a half dozen other ensembles. Add to that the acclaim he’s received for his work over the last 30 years, including the Julius Hemphill Composition Award and numerous “best CD” awards and “rising star” nods by the Critics Poll in Downbeat, he just might be the most important avant garde saxophone player from Germany today after Peter Brötzmann.

Today, though, we’re not discussing his saxophone acumen. There are a pair of records he’s about to release that showcase his bass clarinet and bass flute skills, not to mention his composing and band leading abilities. Two of those eight ensembles get the spotlight, too: the trio of Gebhard with two double bassists (Chris Dahlgren and Clayton Thomas) called BassX3, and the all-clarinet threesome with Jürgen Kupke and Michael Thieke simply named The Clarinet Trio.

There’s a couple of common threads running through these two records — Transatlantic by BassX3 and 4 by the Clarinet Trio — besides the leadership of Ullmann: these are both percussion-less records and they are played very much in the Ullmann style of experimental music that obliterates the lines between artificially defined genres, and using traditional music (jazz and otherwise) merely as a jumping off point into the abyss of improvised music.

The BassX3 disc, their second one following a 2005 self-titled release, is what I can best describe as “organic avant-ambient” music. The three use this uncommon combination of low end tones to create some hypnotic drones (the three-part “Transatlantic” suite is collectively more than half an hour of that), and pieces that strive for pure sound using other tactics, like the barren but beautiful atonal poem “The No Piece” (video below) which features Ullmann’s bass flute. “The Epic” is a mannered, almost-chamber sounding lengthy piece that probes for shapes and moods where the two plucking and bowing bassist often spar with the bass clarinet to create the sparks.

By contrast, the Clarinet Trio’s latest offering relies more on conventional music forms to create its sounds but contorts and transforms those forms into something that’s fresh and original. “May 5” is constructed around an unmistakably Turkish rondo accentuated with wails and squeals of various clarinets, but never completely letting go of the ostinato. “Blaues Viertel” is another delight (video below), as Ullmann plays a straight blues bass line as Kupke and Thieke deconstruct the 12 bar form with some very interesting results. “Collective #13 #14” is most like BassX3 in that there are some long, contemplative moments punctuated by mini-explosions of passion. Ullmann even revisits the title track of that recent Ullmann|Swell 4 album we covered, “News? No News!” and turns it into a intricate presentation of three tightly interwoven clarinets.

Both albums are to be released on April 17, by Leo Records. Visit Gebhard Ullmann’s site.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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