Hat And Shoes celebrates a number of milestones: Ullmann's fiftieth release as a leader or co-leader and the twentieth year of the Basement Research project itself, which started with the eponymous Soul Note release from 1995.
For this release of the project, bassist John Hebert is replaced by Pascal Niggenkemper who is more than up to the task of providing the driving bottom in concert with drummer Gerald Cleaver that this music demands, as well as having extremely nimble musical reflexes. Trombonist Steve Swell and baritone saxophonist Julian Arguelles also return to round out the group.
As is usual with Ullmann, the set of tracks chosen are a mix of older compositions which are revisited but reworked to explore Ullmann's latest musical interest or the group's particular strength. The first two tracks, "Trinidad Walk" and "Wo bitte geht's zu den Hackeschen Hofen" are new, as is the last track, "Gulf of Berlin," while the rest return after varying periods of time.
What seems to of particular interest in this release is the line between collective improvisation (whether on some pre-arranged theme or not) and composition. These players are very familiar with each other and hence are able to pick up another's idea and run with it. What is striking however, on more than one track, is how a free section (both rhythmically and melodically) can so effortlessly become deep "Ullmann swing." "Trinidad Walk" is a good example (see here for the composition) as it starts out with musings by Niggenkemper and Cleaver, gradually getting more dense and driving until the two players agree to get into a wonderful groove which leads into the composition proper.
Ullmann's music is always very sharply edged, strutting, self-assured and even ironically humorous (just listen to Swell on "Flutist With Hat And Shoes"). There is a very fine balance between freedom and structure, in which a discerning listener can revel.
Not as aggressive as New Basement Research (although "Wo bitte" pulls no punches), Hat And Shoes will be welcomed by Ullmann fans as well as by anyone who values challenging, but engaging music.
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
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