It is difficult to decide, when listening to The Ullmann-Swell 4 disc News? No News! whether the choicest parts are composed or purely improvised. With such talent heard here in this mini-supergroup of saxophonist/bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann, trombonist Steve Swell, bassist Hilliard Greene, and drummer Barry Altschul, maybe the extreme pleasure that results is allowing that tug-of-war to play itself out.
This disc is the second by the quartet, following Desert Songs and Other Landscapes (CIMP, 2004). Ullmann and Swell are long time partners, having collaborating in Ullmann's sextet Basement Research, a group also notable for featuring British saxophonist Julian Arguelles. Together, they form a pair of redoubtable and daunting musicians who can absorb musical genreswhether jazz or blues, free or regimentedand deliver a cogent paean.
Though probably best known for his bass clarinet, Ullmann switches to tenor saxophone on several tracks here. The urgency of "More Hello" mates the tenor trombone sound to the frenetic playing from Altschul and Greene. But such scattershot is not the predominate theme here. This quartet is more likely to exhibit its dance skills in subtler ways, such as the furious improvisation to synchronized swing on "Composite #1" that overlays the in with the out. Time marches, only to be cut free. As with most tracks, the players break off into two detachable units, but each pair also remains with the improvised decorative veneer of music.
Ullmann and Swell each composed four tracks here, and two"GPS #1" and "GPS #2"are group improvisations. These pieces are intended to be open, allowing for space to wander and dream. Greene's opening bass solo signals the form and his three companions wriggle along. The like-minded players fit bass clarinet and trombone into the prodding search of the two spacious pieces. Elsewhere, the composed music favors a pleasing swing that accentuates the soloing. "Berlin 9:35" and "New York 5:50" sets the scene with a steady pulse, allowing Swell and Ullmann to pair followed by varying combinations of players, all to great effect.
Personnel: Steve Swell: trombone; Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Hilliard Greene: bass; Barry Altschul: drums.