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The Chicago Plan: For New Zealand


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The Chicago Plan: For New Zealand
German reedman Gebhard Ullmann and American trombonist Steve Swell, front line comrades for over 15 years in a variety of outfits, reunite on For New Zealand for the second release from their joint led initiative The Chicago Plan. Rounding out the foursome and providing some allusion to the band's moniker are the Windy City pairing of drummer Michael Zerang and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (although the latter decamped to Kingston, NY in 2017 following a 22-year stay). They share deeper connections than this unit alone, and that is reflected in their uncanny responsiveness, further enabled by the skill to call upon whatever they need to service the moment.

The two principals split the compositional credits equally across the six studio cuts, but the common denominator is how deftly they exploit the possibilities inherent in the line up. Lonberg-Holm's cello in particular broadens the available palette, from burly bottom end vamps to skeletal flinty scrabbles, a range enhanced yet more by his array of electronic effects. The writing also embraces a spread of styles and moods.

Upending the convention of placing the most radio friendly track at the start of proceedings, even on non-commercial dates such as this, Swell's "Composite 13 -For New Zealand" initially conjures a dark foreboding atmosphere, derived from an uneasy buzzing drone from trombone and tenor saxophone, not alleviated by a percussive crash and Lonberg-Holm's pinched scrape. As the horns float, an anthemic theme emerges, at which point the cello kicks in with locomotive sawing, to buoy up a string of punchy figures, which move the piece from the new music realm of Oliver Messaien, Berio and Ligeti towards an earthy free jazz, exemplified by Ullmann's incendiary tenor outing and Swell's annunciatory twisting blurts. And then back again.

Such consequential gear shifts are in evidence elsewhere too. Ullmann's effervescent bass clarinet introduction to his own "Welcome To The Red Island" transmutes into a mournful dirge, a feel subsequently lightened by Swell's hopeful trombone later in the piece. Conversely on "Sketch 6" a muted timbral exchange gives way to a series of interlocking riffs from trombone, cello and tenor which serve to introduce a drum feature for Zerang, full of his characteristically modulated metal and drum head sonorities, while on "BA-8" brief unisons alternate with various flavors of group interaction, all squawk, mutter and shout at one extreme, delicate and fugue-like at the other.

It is an album which showcases the ensemble as much as the individual improvisers, but it's also one in which their talents continually burst out of the confines of the charts.

Track Listing

Composite 13 - For New Zealand; Welcome To The Red Island; Sketch 6; Yoyo; BA-8; Variations On A Masterplan (Part 1).


Gebhard Ullmann: saxophone; Steve Swell: trombone; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Michael Zerang: drums.

Album information

Title: For New Zealand | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: NotTwo Records

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