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Gebhard Ullmann: Basement Research: Live in Münster

For many years now, the German multi-reedist Gebhard Ullmann has kept fires burning on both sides of the Atlantic, employing some of the finest European and American jazz artists to realize his demanding and stylistically varied music. With Live in Münster he presents the latest incarnation of his Basement Research band, a free-jazz quartet that includes tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes. Ullmann composes and plays tenor and soprano saxes as well as bass clarinet. The group is one of Ullmann’s more conventional bands in terms of instrumentation and concept-though “convention” is an extremely malleable notion when dealing with Ullmann’s work. His knotty, tonally unhinged melodies are arranged (sometimes quite dissonantly) for two horns, girded by Haynes’ fleet free-bop rhythms and Gress’ elastic harmonically subtle bass lines. The saxophonists bear much in common. Both have big, burly tenor sounds and very quick fingers. Malaby is slightly more conformist than Ullmann; literal traces of Rollins and Coltrane are easy to find in his work, whereas Ullmann’s inspirations are more obscure. Both are fine players who work well with one another.

On Die Blaue Nixe Ullmann takes another tack, playing improvised chamber music in the company of bassist Chris Dahlgren and pianist Art Lande. A jazz feel suffuses the music, even if the swing is more implied than stated. Dahlgren gets a dark, chocolately sound out of his instrument. On the solo-bass movement, “The Sun Seemed Never Again as Yellow,” his lyricism is given full rein-remindful of Charlie Haden, but less rustic, more polished. Lande’s playing contributes greatly to the overall quiet yet intense vibe. His touch is light and finely nuanced, his melodies spare, almost Satie-like. Ullmann is quite different from the garrulous extrovert he portrays in Basement Research. Here he concentrates on subtleties of color and dynamics. His nontonal lines are often hastily but thoughtfully scribbled. Techniques of openness-long sustained lines, liberal use of space and low dynamic levels-guide this music. One might expect a certain amount of monotony to set in, given the studied emphasis on quiet, but that’s hardly the case. There’s a great deal of variety to be experienced within the music’s circumscribed bounds. I can usually count on Ullmann to stoke my enthusiasm about new jazz. With these two records, he’s done it twice.

Originally Published