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Conference Call: What About...?

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Conference Call: What About...? It has been said that live music offers the composer the opportunity to add the final ingredient in the decoction of their creation: the audience. In the case of Conference Call's 2007 concert in Krakow, Poland, documented on the double-disc What About...?, there's the dramatic addition of completely spontaneous, improvisations by one or more of the fiercely creative quartet. It's also why the mercury rises fast and furious from the get-go; the musicians taking ownership of their evolving sound, as its dramaturgy remains rich, and full of blood, guts and naked emotion throughout. Not that the group wears its hearts on its sleeves, but this inventive music clearlyemerges directly from the artists' souls.

The soul does not disguise the feelings of nervy minds, not in the case of Conference Call, at any rate. Questions are asked: "What About the Future?" The answers are complex and probative, but always dazzling, like the assault of a myriad lights of a new city. Things look good: reedman Gebhard Ullmann's saxophone swings; drummer George Schuller's skins fibrillate, flashy and cock-sure; Joe Fonda's bass is grave and sonorous and roars from the depths; and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens is playful, his arpeggios skittering and tearing up the keys. Resolution is, at times, full of towering architecture and immediacy, while elsewhere, songs develop without the haste of arrival. Their enigma is held over until the audience is left gasping for breath. "After Life" is spread likewise over two burgeoning sections until it is brought to a dramatic close in "Part 3," on the second disc.

Yet not everything dallies, seemingly testing the wind with ideas, phrases and long loping lines. Some songs move more rapidly, searing the ears like brilliant flashes of speeding light. Again, their movement is anything but predictable, with "Circle" moving in waves. "Conference Call" is more elusive: at times, an oblique shout out to Steve Lacy; at other times a quick call to Heiner Stadler, at the time he was involved in his A Tribute to Monk and Charlie Parker (Tomato, 1978). History is well learned, and kept alive through dissonance and consonance. Heritage is playfully encountered in "Could This be a Polka," and then again, more pensively, in "Translucent Tones (Gestalt in Three)."

The collective sonic palette explored further in "Litmus" and "What About...?" is anything but uncertain, being, perhaps, the start of a new, elastic dialogue to add volumes to the literature of music. The poetics of music have been well preserved by Conference Call.

Track Listing: CD1: After Like (Part 1); After Like (Part 2); What About the Future?; Circle; Conference Call. CD2: After Like (Part 3); Could This Be a Polka?; Litmus; Translucent Tones (Gestalt in Three); What About...?.

Personnel: Gebhard Ullmann: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Joe Fonda: bass; George Schuller: drums and percussion.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Not Two Records


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