“The voice coming from The Ullmann/Swell Quartet is saying, ‘Listen, feel, and become. Don’t look back. This is MUSIC OF TODAY.’ ” — bassist William Parker
News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt), the second release by the Gebhard Ullmann-Steve Swell quartet, charts the ongoing development of one of the most exciting working groups in jazz today. Reed player Ullmann, trombonist Swell, bassist Hilliard Greene, and drummer Barry Altschul play with go-for-broke energy, but they are far more than a free-jazz blowing band. The compositions and arrangements of the co-leaders are varied and make the most of the band’s potential. As bassist William Parker observes in the album’s liner notes, “The goal in these sonic excursions is to explore music in all of its moods, colors and shapes. There is also a strong investment in silence, space and
Each track on the album has it’s own character. “More Hello” kicks things off at a frenetic clip, but both Ullmann and Swell use the composition during their improvisations to give the performance a unified feeling. “New York 5:50” rumbles along at a medium tempo, capturing something of the energy and mystery of the Big Apple. The band pairs off in duo combinations to create sonic variety, paying close attention to one another as they improvise, and making use of space and texture, as well. Ullmann’s other city dedication, “Berlin 9:35,” makes similar use of the band’s resources, using different duo partners. Swell’s collage-like “Composite #1” moves in and out of different tempos, and through passages of fragmented time, and features instrumental combinations that change the color and density of the music. It’s a great place to appreciate veteran drummer Altschul’s master-of-all-trades virtuosity. He keeps swinging time at a medium groove, breaks up the meter into outbursts of percussive color, and during his solo, rotates among the trap-kit components in a beautifully orchestrated statement.
Ullmann’s moody “Kleine Figuren #2” is a dirge-like piece played at a subdued volume, but saturated with intense sounds. “Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon” has a slight melancholy tinge to the melody but Greene and Altschul’s uplifting beat buoys the performance, as both Ullmann and Swell surge through their respective solos. The title track ventures into the blues, featuring some of Ullmann’s most urgent work on the album. Two group improvisations, “GPS #1” and “GPS #2,” have all the coherence of composition, thanks to the telepathic interactions that the group has sharpened since they came together in 2003. “Airtight” ends the disc on a high note, showcasing Greene’s ability to lend the music a sense of stability while keeping it free and fluid.
With close to 40 albums as a leader or co-leader of bands that include both European and American musicians, German reed player Gebhard Ullmann is one of the most prolific and creatively fertile composer-improvisers working on either side of the Atlantic. Besides the quartet he co-leads with Steve Swell, Ullmann also leads or co-leads the ten-piece woodwind-accordion project Ta Lam Zehn; the cooperative band Conference Call (with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller); the Clarinet Trio (with Juergen Kupke and Michael Thieke), and Basement Research (a sextet that also features Swell, along with British saxophonist Julian Arguelles).
“Few improvising artists can boast the stream of creative ideas that seem to bubble from Gebhard Ullmann,” says Steven Loewy in Cadence Magazine. “Ullmann's performances are grounded in the past but plunge forward deliberately toward modernity”
Trombonist Steve Swell is one of the busiest musicians in the New York free jazz scene. He has more than 30 albums to his credit as a leader or co-leader and he appears on more than 90 other recordings as well. He leads or co-leads several bands, including Slammin’ the Infinite (with reed player Sabir Mateen, bassist Mat Heyner, and drummer Klaus Kogel), The N.O.W. big band, and Fire Into Music (with alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake), among others. He has also participated in the Cecil Taylor Orchestra Humane, Roswell Rudd’s Trombone Tribe, Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble, and William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra.
Swell and Ullmann may live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but they and their quartet are definitely on the same musical wavelength.