During the roiling twenty years that Conference Call
has willfully crisscrossed the broad Atlantic, the individual drummers haven't participated in all of the round trips. The pre-2020 drummer rotation was Matt Wilson
, who left the band prior to its first tour in 2001 to prep for the delivery of triplets, Han Bennink
, George Schuller
, and Gerry Hemingway
. But the core players remain. As does the key aesthetic: creative art as spontaneous geometry. So how you fit the individual pieces together and how you knock them down is the sole equation of the day.
Never minding the covert allusion to America's secret surveillance program, Prism
makes for a really good day. Its fall zone is a vast landscape of adventurous hurdles toppled by an innate insistence to remain free. Of thought, of boundary, of expectation. All the scholarly proof you'll need is one listen through of bassist Joe Fonda
's elliptically fluid and joyously spirit-lifting "Listen to Dr. Cornell West," saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann
's true rush of form on "Variations on A Master Plan (Part Two)," and the sly, modernist honky-tonk of pianist Michael Jeffrey Stevens
' shifty "Sal's Song." Taken together, the three define the whole enterprise and frame the middle of this seven song (song: it seems like such a trite descriptor here) program.
So it naturally incurs that Ullman's deceptively scorching "FJD" and Stevens' balletic banner track usher us into Prism
, and that's no mean feat, being the whole is a succession of challenges sidestepped, pogoed, danced around, and charged full-on into. Antsy, articulate, and necessary, new drummer Deter Ulrich
brings a current urgency to the founding trio, a veteran group that has never, collectively or individually, been at a loss to find the spark that ignites every barely controlled frenzy they come upon or bring into glorious existence. Each old hand brings his road-tested, respective brand: Stevens' waterfall-like fragility tempering and nudging Ullmann's cutting, breathy bites and jabs while Fonda's elastic animations play at the heart of the matter. Prism
never lags, certainly not with the stimulating mash of Fonda's second highlight offering "The Bee" and the seismic, late-night quiet of Ullmann's "Zeit Lupe." The faint hearted need not apply.
F.J.D.; Prism; Listen to Dr. Cornell West; Variation on a Master Plan; Sal’s Song; The Bee; Zeit Lupe.