Jazz Now readers will recall my recommendation, I hope, of bass clarinetist/saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann's recent big-band showcase disc on Soul Note (see the October '05 e-issue). Here he's twinned with a much smaller ensemble, and the results are as worthwhile but for completely different reasons.
The oddly ambient sound field of this very good recording of improvs for two basses (Chris Dahlgren and Peter Herbert), electronics (Dahlgren), bass clarinet and occasional bass flute gives the person who wonders "just what is all the hoo-hah with this improvised music anyway, lately?" a chance to listen in and not get his/her doors blown off.
Not for this person a Charles Gayle CD! Not for a while, anyway. But this summit meeting of three lower register masters (no pun intended, honest) is ideal because at no point is there any "Ascension" - style intergalactic blast-off; in fact, Ullmann's recitative during "Small Birds/Dreiholz" is notable for how skillfully it rides the line between in and out. But Ullmann, keen listener that he is, realizes the interlock of Dahlgren and Herbert below him doesn't really contain much in the way of rhythmic signifiers, so he has to hew to something!
Ullmann's bass-flute work appends a salsalike lilt to "Gross und Klein" that pops one's eyes (I sure didn't expect it) while Dahlgren and Herbert pick madly about him. It's a treat to hear how subtly Ullmann allows the repeating pattern to decay and scatter over seven minutes, as well as what the bassists make of the scraps drifting apart.
BassX3 consists of gently modulating held tones buzzing and exploring tiny variants in their distances from one another. Giacinto Scelsi, call your office! Reminds me of a time I heard the Cecil Taylor String Quartet rip off a furious set of impossibly complex pieces. When I asked Dom Duval, quartet bassist extraordinaire, when Taylor wrote them, he said, "You kidding, man? That was all improvised!" I still don't believe it. I'd have trouble believing "BassX3" was too.
Elsewhere Dahlgren steps out on African perc with "Yeah Mbira," while Ullmann waxes mildly bluesy on bass clarinet to the sound of many slapped strings and multileveled rhythms during "Blue Mint." Herbert seems usually to handle what few actual root functions these three have agreed are necessary, and his plucking sounds almost akin to a cello's.
No need to worry about a lack of colors here. "Red"'s votive-light flute requires serious consideration as well, tripping as it does through a seeming forest of tolling bell-like bass tones. Beautifully done.
Very convincing. Ullmann and company score once again.
By Kenneth Egbert