Basement Research is one of Gebhard Ullmann's ongoing projects; its first edition produced an eponymous debut (Soul Note, 1995), where the multi-reedist was joined by Ellery Eskelin's battling tenor saxophone and supported by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes, resulting in music with much raw energy and passion. This same band also recorded Kreuzberg Park East
(Soul Note, 1999).
As part of his fifty-year birthday celebration, Ullmann has released this live recording from 1999, with Tony Malaby replacing Eskelin. Ullmann thrives on playing without a net, and being caught live only enhances the experience. I have always thought that deep inside, Ullmann was a blues man, but in the same way as Coleman Hawkins: neither come right out and play the blues per se, but it always lurks beneath the surface. Even on a record as esoteric as Die Blaue Nixe
, this side of Ullmann emerges. Perhaps it is not coincidental that In Münster
starts with "Blaues Lied (Blue Song)," a very deep but also deeply twisted blues, a wrenching version of which reappears in the middle of "Kreuzberg Park East."
Ullmann's compositions make use of both structured freedom and composed anarchy. His bandmates must be on their toes at all times, since his music can be held together in many ways, from some germ cell of a few notes that provide the barest tissue on which to develop to a written-out line with rhythm.
The band is very, very hot on this record. Malaby gives as much as he gets, Gress plays powerfully, and Haynes injects his percussive sounds at will. The music twists and turns, never standing still, as many waves grow, crest and crash, only to start again. This performance manifests the sound of surprise that is at the core of the best jazz. "Farbiges Lied" starts off as a sound painting with Ullmann and Malaby, until the theme is turned inside out into what could almost be a bebop head. Gress is driving underneath, and when the reeds drop out, he plays a monster duet with Haynes.
If your attention somehow manages to drift for a second, the music might just pull the rug out. However, the audience sounds in total synch with the musicians, quite willing to go wherever this thrilling performance takes them.
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Personnel: Gebhard Ullmann: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Drew Gress: bass; Phil Haynes: drums.