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Steve Swell's Slammin' The Infinite
German multi-reedman Gebhard Ullmann divides his time between Berlin and New York with multiple groups based in each city, including a quartet co-led with trombonist Steve Swell. His most recent release Cut It Out documents a Brooklyn trio session from 2000 with bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen. For this date, Ullmann concentrated on two instruments from the lower register: bass clarinet and bass flute, a good strategy since it makes for some unique and unusual listening.
Basically, this is an all-improvised session (except for Dahlgren's "Lolligagger ) with all three players on the same wavelength. Rosen has his full drum kit with an array of cymbals that adds a nice textural diversity to the music. Dahlgren has an electronic setup which seems to operate independently from his bass and this also expands the textural element of the music. Ullmann's bass clarinet is rich and full sounding and his facility ranges throughout the instrument. While it's difficult to escape Dolphy's influence on the instrument, Ullmann betrays less of this than most. And his bass flute has a rich resonant sound that gives this music a unique flavor.
This is intricate trio music that frequently proceeds at a deliberate pace and it's all the stronger for it. The ten tracks are ordered into four mini-suites. The second grouping begins with "U.S.O. Ballad . Ullmann on bass flute plays a melody line (it almost sounds composed) that drifts languidly on a bed of electronics and subtle percussion. "Lolligagger follows with a slow walking bass line. Ullmann's bass clarinet plays around with Dahlgren's figure creating an ominous tension. The tension explodes on "No Mouthpiece with its fiery bursts of bass clarinet (sans mouthpiece at the beginning), deep rumbling bass drone, wailing electronics and splashing cymbals. What's most surprising about the electronic element is how organically integrated it gets into the fabric of the music.
One suspects this disc was a prologue to a more recent Ullmann project, his BassX3 project that found his two lower register instruments playing against two basses (Dahlgren and Peter Hebert). That group has a wholly unique sound and texture and produced a remarkable disc on Drimala (BassX3). Yet while this trio is a little more straightforward in its instrumental makeup, these three players make music that is equally original and compelling. One wonders why it took so long to get this one released?
Trombonist Steve Swell's Slammin' The Infinite released their first self-titled record on Cadence and it was a worthwhile endeavor. Remember Now is their second release and as good as the first one was, this one is light years beyond that. They now sound more like a unit. Rather than two front line soloists with a rhythm section, on this release they seem like a group of four equals. The rhythm section of Matthew Heyner (who is amazing on this disc) and Klaus Kugel (ditto) has really developed into a team that is just as able to step out in front and lead the band as to drive it along from behind. And the material Swell has written takes full advantage of this.
The opening track "Antlers is a good example. Those who think this group as merely an energy blowing band may be surprised by this track. The horns play written material throughout, a series of off kilter phrases that form a springboard for the rhythm section and a feature for Heyner. His arco bass work on this track shows that he's the heir apparent to Alan Silva, with careening lines flowing effortlessly off his bow. Elsewhere Swell scores out fiery phrases for the horns. "MB-1 (for Marion Brown) has the horns stating the theme, jabbing out staccato phrases.This has the effect of propelling saxophonist Sabir Mateen to a powerful tenor solo that reaches the stratosphere. The title track is propelled by a lopsided ostinato phrase as the horns state the theme in unison above. It's reminiscent of the type of themes Grachan Moncur III was writing during his BYG-Actuel phase. Swell plays a big, blustery solo that stretches the rhythm this way and that (listen to the way Kugel responds) and creates remarkable tension. When Mateen enters on tenor, he plays a couple of phrases in a raspy almost Archie Shepp-type voice before settling into a more typical solo that takes the material soaring before bringing it back down to earth with a couple of decisive phrases.
Every track has something to offer. Each are cut so closely that the effect is of an hour-long suite. It's almost hard to take this disc off once one puts it on. Remember Now makes a good case for Slammin' The Infinite being one of the most exciting working groups in jazz/improvised music today.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Grid Speak; Calling Mr. Watts No. 1; U.S.O. Ballad; Lolligagger; No Mouthpiece; Calling Mr. Watts No. 2; Mbira; Walking Under Trains; Bass/Bass; Epilog (Ballad No. 2).
Personnel: Gebhard Ullmann: bass clarinet, bass flute; Chris Dahlgren: bass, electronics; Jay Rosen: drums, percussion.
Tracks: Antlers; MB-1 (For marion Brown); Patient Explorer; Grow Your Own; We Interrupt This Channel; Remember Now; Different Degrees; Stride Right.
Personnel: Steve Swell: trombone; Sabir Mateen: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet, alto clarinet; Matthew Heyner: bass; Klaus Kugel: drums.