Conference Call: Prism

Dan McClenaghan By

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Conference Call: Prism
Prism, by the band Conference Call, sounds, on the set's opening tune, "F.J.D.," like a bunch of guys who might mug you: a brash, turbulent, confrontational crowd with a "we-don't-take-no-mess-from-nobody" approach to making music. Credit reedman Gebhard Ullmann with his grouchy, working-man-roused-from-his-afternoon-nap tenor sax sound, and the powerful bass (which you can feel in your bones) of Joe Fonda, accompanied by the aggressive clamor of, Dieter Ulrich—the group's third drummer in its twenty year tenure—along with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens' percussive whirlwind machinations. It is an opening salvo which grabs the ear.

The title tune turns away from the tempestuousness; a brooding, late night sound—Ullman's tenor sounding rich and mellow—gives off an introspective vibe, featuring pianist Stevens in an exploration of delicacy and nuance, while drummer Ulrich whispers, and Fonda lays down a forcefully patient bass solo.

The Fonda-penned "Listen to Dr. Cornell West" features Ullman on bass clarinet, sounding as adamant as he does on tenor sax. Fonda and Ullrich craft a subterranean volcanic activity backdrop, while Stevens—sounding just this side of madcap—makes an ongoing soundtrack of bird flock bursts, until Ullman and Fonda get themselves involved in a contentious conversation that shifts, as the full quartet comes back, into (near) straight-ahead territory on a consonant groove.

Conference Call, with its two decades of playing together—only the drum chair has changed in that time—has developed an intense yet approachable free jazz sound. It is a true collective, all members contributing compositions, closing with the relatively placid Joe Fonda tune, "The Bee," a dark and moody piece, followed by Gebhard Ullman's beautifully lugubrious "Zeit Lupe."

Track Listing

F.J.D.; Prism; Listen to Dr. Cornell West; Variation on a Master Plan; Sal’s Song; The Bee; Zeit Lupe.


Gebhard Ullmann: saxophone; Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Joe Fonda: bass; Deter Ulrich: drums.

Album information

Title: Prism | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Not Two Records

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