Saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann might be the German equivalent of Chicago's Ken Vandermark. Both players are influential composers and both maintain multiple creative ensembles in Europe and the United States. Like Vandermark, Ullmann's catalog is vast. Hat And Shoes is his 50th release as a leader or co- leader, and this band Basement Research have put out seven titles.
Hat And Shoes opens in duo. Bass and drums thunder from below ground level before a melody is galumphed across the soundstage. Ullman favors heavy ordnance that can quickly pivot into merciful elements of improvised lightness. He also likes to swing. His controlled mayhem is on full display here with pieces like "Wo bitte geht's zu den Hackeschen Höfen" (Which way leads to the Hackescher Market), where seemingly lost musicians drive a frantic pace through dizzying streets only to find their way back to Ullman's charts.
Where Vandermark had his Jeb Bishop, Ullman has Swell, a trombonist with virtuosic sound and an avant-gardist mind. He can surrender to the desolate feel of "Flutist with Hat And Shoe" working a slurry plunger or capture the band with his solo on "Five." This quintet maintains its stability throughout. Baritone saxophonist, of the Loose Tubes and Carla Bley's Big Band, is Ullman's ying (maybe yang). On "Don't Touch My Music," his solo, over Niggenkemper's bowing, blasts into a lower-earth orbit. He also opens "Blue Trees And Related Objects," the shortest and sweetest composition on the recording. Cleaver's brief brushwork solo is a meditative moment.
The closer, "Gulf Of Berlin" best sums up Basement Research. The Ullman/Swell opening gives way to feigning bedlam that is really just an incendiary device to get to melody and a certain groove. Well done.
Trinidad Walk; Wo bitte geht's zu den Hackeschen Höfen; Flutist with Hat And Shoe;
Don't Touch My Music; Five; Blue Trees And Related Objects; Gulf of Berlin.