Kreuzberg Park East represents German-based saxophonist/composer Gebhard Ullmann’s second collaboration with American jazz notables – saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, drummer Phil Haynes and bassist Drew Gress.
Following up his fine outing with “The Clarinet Trio” on the “Leo Lab” release titled, Oct.1’98 Ullman extends his alliance and dual saxophone attack with Ellery Eskelin on this engaging exhibition featuring Ullmann’s fertile if not wily compositional skills and laudable technical proficiencies. The opener, “Blaues Lied” boasts a moderate swing motif atop Gress’ prominent walking bass lines as the twin saxophonists pursue somewhat of a relaxed or carefree dialogue, while incorporating an unencumbered vibe. Just when the listener may seem lulled by the invariable proceedings, the band willfully deconstruct the - swing element – during the midsection as each musician represents a vital link in the virtual chain. The composition titled, “Meltema” features wistful passages augmented by Gress’ angular yet somewhat rustic or earthy arco-bass articulations. Here, the music seems haunting or dirge-like as drummer Phil Haynes skittishly disrupts the staid momentum with spurts of good-natured yet mischievous activity behind the kit while becoming the lead voice towards the finale. Throughout, Ullmann shines as an intelligent or cerebral composer yet some of these pieces offer contrasting glimpses of his musical mind, which for example is evident on “Flutist with Hat and Shoe”. On this piece Ullmann picks up the clarinet as the ensemble expound upon some hard-edged funk riffs coupled with off-center New Orleans 2nd line banter. “Those 4 R”, finds the band stretching out through a series of complex free-bop and full steam ahead swing grooves as Ullmann leads the charge performing on soprano sax.
Gebhard Ullmann and Ellery Eskelin are a potent twosome who deserve kudos for their synergistic teamwork and visceral approach as they often work from within the themes and melodies while displaying all the savvy and enthusiasm one would expect.... Along with the sterling effort turned in by Haynes and Gress who appear extremely cognizant and thoroughly in tune with Ullmann’s authentic approach, Kreuzberg Park East is a glowing, eclectic and altogether ambitious effort. Heartily recommended.......... * * * *