New Basement Research
Gebhard Ullmann’s music is not neat and orderly, and it’s not easy to describe or categorize. His new album, New Basement Research, resurrects seven of his own tunes from over the years, and they do their best to reconcile the worlds of the composed and the freely improvised. This energetic band features Ullmann on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, Julian Arguelles on soprano and baritone saxes, Steve Swell on trombone, John Hebert on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. They kick things off on “Dreierlei” with the sort of free-jazz passage that can sound as though everyone is playing a different song. Cleaver keeps changing the rhythmic structure, the horns play counter-rhythmically, and Swell unleashes a solo filled with torrents of notes, wails and groans, punctuated by bari-sax bursts. Ullmann introduces “Gospel” with an unaccompanied solo on the bass clarinet as though he’s confiding a secret, and the tune turns into slow, serious—you guessed it—gospel. Again on “Seven 9-8,” a tune that gets its name from the odd signatures within, Ullmann begins alone, this time on the tenor sax, and when the band does join in it feels as though no one is keeping time until two-thirds of the way through, when the horns suddenly play in unison. The climax is the final tune, “Almost Twenty-Eight,” on which the quintet sounds a lot like the Vandermark 5 (with the same instrumentation that group had for years, come to think of it). Cleaver and Hebert pump out an insistent rock beat and bass line with, if you can believe this, a 27-beat form, and the sax, ’bone and clarinet overlay it with meaty improv. The occasion of this CD release is Ullmann’s 50th birthday. With New Basement Research, it’s a darned happy one.