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The Ullmann/Swell 4: News? No News!

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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The Ullmann/Swell 4: News? No News! There is a marvelous gravitas that emanates from the musical waves that rush onward and beat the inner ear, spreading colors and textures like brilliant volatile smears on the music's canvas. The awesome density of Steve Swell's trombone carving the air in great circles of sound, swirling around the growling of Gebhard Ullmann's tenor saxophone brings attendant, almost ritualistic graces to cast unexpected spells. Growls alternate with the low bellow of Ullmann's bass clarinet, rousing somnolent aspects of the charts before the musicians. Thus, the character of this music on News? No News! emerges like a modern Poseidon, charting a brand new course in the drying urban soundscape.

Swell, Ullmann, bassist Hilliard Greene and percussionist, Barry Altschul bring a certain eternity to the music on this album, especially on collectively improvised pieces such as "GPS #1" and "GPS #2," both of which propel the musicians into a stratospheric space, where they seem to exist and perform in a rarefied state of mind. Ullmann is often puckish, here as is Greene—who gains complete control of the upper register of his bass violin—while Swell plays emotional counterpoint, with grave densely colored clusters of sound and silence. The vigorous fist-pump or high five of "More Hello" echoes in sharp contrast to the ponderous bellowing and seeming skull drudgery of "News? No News!" However, the latter chart survives the vagaries of eternal damnation because it is swathed in irony, brilliantly sounded in Ullmann's bass clarinet, which makes great leaps and bounds all over the chart. Stylistically, Ullmann appears to pay homage to Eric Dolphy, both rhythmically and harmonically as well.

Steve Swell plays a willing, emotionally explosive partner in the whole expedition, joining Ullmann right up front. The trombonist surely subscribes to the school that was inadvertently founded when Roswell Rudd hit the ground, wielding his trombone like a primordial shaman, splattering and growling, making human speech-like pronouncements with harmonic integrity. Swell is sharp and observant and brings a rich palette of colors to the sonic canvas. His staccato punches weave and cut through the air like the punches of an expert pugilist. His tone is dry, yet, magically his bronzed coloring remains wet and drips gracefully onto the chart, spreading its warm glow and cheeriness as he dances interminably. His conversations with Ullmann on "Berlin 9:35" are characteristic.

Of course, none of the energy and verve would have been sustained quite as it has been, without the sonority of Greene's bass. It dances in mad circles with the breathtaking energy of Altschul's colorful percussion. The rhythmic intensity of the duo, and its absolute empathy with the woodwinds and reeds, is spectacularly showcased throughout. There are completely free pieces, where the bassist and drummer play in and all around the changing pulse. And then there is the hypnotically swinging "Airtight," where the musicians seems of one mind—bass and drums crowning the well-earned majesty of this music with both sound and silence.


Track Listing: More Hello; New York 5:50; Composite #1; Kleine Figuren #2; Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon; GPS #1; News? No News!; GPS #2; Berlin 9:35; Airtight.

Personnel: Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Steve Swell: trombone; Hilliard Greene: double bass; Barry Altschul: drums.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Jazzwerkstatt Berlin-brandenburg E.v.


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