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Gebhard Ullmann: Basement Research

Budd Kopman By

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On Basement Research, Berlin-based Gebhard Ullmann combines his unique brand of composition with the pre-existing American trio of saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes. The recording is remarkable in that there is no sense whatsoever of Ullmann being grafted on to an admittedly close trio. While it is true that Eskelin and company are playing Ullmann's compositions, the degree of meshing of the quartet is amazing.

This version of the quartet is the first in what will become an ongoing project for Ullmann, and is dramatically different and more "normal" than the pure reed releases of Ta Lam (99 Records, 1993) and Moritat (99 Records, 1994). Subsequent releases by this quartet project include Kreuzberg Park East (Soul Note, 1999) and Live in Münster (Not Two, 2006), where Tony Malaby replaces Eskelin.

Of the ten tracks on Basement Research, only three pieces—"Café Toronto," "Farbiges Lied" and "New No-Ness"—are new, with the other seven first appearing on earlier recordings including Moritat and Ullmann - Rava - Willers - Lillich - Schäuble.

By this time, what is apparent is that Ullmann views artistic growth not just in producing new work, but also in taking the old, then isolating its essence and recasting it for a different kind of group. Hence, someone who follows Ullmann can literally hear him work out different challenges over time. What becomes clear is that each of Ullmann's pieces has an identifiable kernel, and it is the job of the group at hand to bring it out with the complex balance of arrangements and free sections.

Eskelin, Gress and Haynes prove to be able interpreters of Ullmann's ideas, and the level of emotion is high. Eskelin is an almost alternate personality of Ullmann in how he understands what is required, while Gress and Haynes are less of a rhythm section and more an addition of two other independent voices. Given the fact that this quartet has a significantly different sound than the earlier works, Basement Research presents the listener with a new piece of the aural puzzle that is Ullmann.

The opening track and most recorded of Ullmann's pieces, the immediately recognizable tango-based "D. Nee - No" shows us just how well the group communicates and takes off while working with a clearer tune. With "Oberschöneweide," the group is taken into the realm of pure sound rather than tune.

An interesting observation can be made about the fact that two of the new tunes—"New No-Ness" and "Farbiges Lied"—both have boppish, although quite modernized, themes; perhaps Ullmann is showing his roots.

Basement Research is a wonderful recording by itself, and its attraction is only increased by the reworking of the material.

Track Listing: D. Nee - No; Think Tank; Caf

Personnel: Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Drew Gress: bass; Phil Haynes: drums.

Title: Basement Research | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Soul Note


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