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The Ullman Swell 4: News? No News!

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The second album for this quartet, News? No News? is at once rip-roaring and reflective. Reedist Gebhard Ullman and trombonist Steve Swell establish equally strong musical main characters. The title list alternates between compositions created by either Ullman or Swell. Two tracks are attributed to all four members of the group, filled out with bassist Hillard Greene and drummer Barry Altschul.

Crucial to this record is the balance among rhythm changes, congruence and multi-directionality. The front end of the record begins with straightforward unison choruses from the two horns which return throughout the mainline improvisation. By the close of the third track, Swell’s “Composite #1,” the band enters into a swing zone, which quickly sours out with the tenor sound, but after a drum interlude ends in synchronous trombone-tenor choruses. Swell’s “Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon” continues both the pulse and synchronicity but integrates individual instrumental avenues of expression. Ullman’s pieces manifest a narrative approach, for instance, in “New York 5:50” and “Berlin 9:35,” which allows the horn players to open up their ornamental frolic.

An exception is Ullman’s “Kleine Figuren #2” which showcases a slow-paced, oddly contiguous bass clarinet and trombone line bolstered by sporadic percussive strikes from the drums closed by a solemnly bowed bass stroke. Unhurried to moderate tempos occur in the group’s fantastical improvisations, “GPS #1” and “GPS #2.”

Bassist Greene begins several tracks. His beautifully presented pizzicatos and arco technique give easy entrance to the instrumental interceptions of his low reverberant tones. Altschul’s assiduous drumming links to the direction of the music; he sits out and re-enters when the time is right. His rumbles and stick-cymbal figures are intertwined with his application of percussiveness. His rigorously accurate solo echoes the concision of the trombone/tenor choruses of the last track, appropriately entitled “Airtight.”

Originally Published