The Clarinet Trio is made up of Jürgen Kupke (clarinet), Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet) and Theo Nabicht (bass clarinet). Although this somewhat straitened instrumental lineup would seem limited, these three musicians have tremendous stylistic ability and virtuosic breadth. On these 19 brief pieces they move through a world of clarinet approaches - indeed, often they do so in the course of one piece.
To take just one example, "Klezmer . . . Flower . . . Tag . . .," although it is not even three and a half minutes long, has enough time to unfold a theme with modern classical harmonic piquancy, shift to broad Dixie clarinet, and back again, all with a contrapuntal approach that gives the music a symphonic depth that belies the fact that there are only three musicians. A symphonic buildup appears on "Heaven No. 2.7" also, around a few more playful dialogues.
These three musicians can, of course, dance at the outer fringes, as on the opening "Mouthpiece" and the Dolphyan bass clarinet features "Für Bassklarinette Alleine," "Brywzc (für zwei Bassklarinetten zusammen)" and "Für die Andere Bassklarinette Alleine." But true to Dolphy's highly vocalized approach, they can also mimic the cadences of the colorful vocal styles of gospel music on the extraordinary "Gospel," which sounds like a Mahalia Jackson recording run through clarinets. Here the trio makes great use of one voice in the lead with the others providing an immediately recognizable gospel backdrop. Less dead-on, but still engrossing, is a hypnotic "Blues/Collective Three" that follows later. It's not very bluesy, but with such a rich sound as this disc has, they can call the pieces whatever they want.)
The trio even creeps edgily into an increasingly sincere take on "Tea for Two," on which the old chestnut of a theme arises sidelong out of some soft abstract musings, like a snake charmed out of a basket. Toward the end of the disc comes a genuine waltz, "Walzer/Collective Four," a straitlaced title for such an absorbing little thing. Just as Oct. 1, '98 is a straitlaced title for such a great disc. It's all topped off with a terrifically sentimental "Parlami di me." Recommended.