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Gebhard Ullmann: Conference Call
Conference Call is a quartet made up of reed and woodwind master Gebhard Ullmann, bassist Joe Fonda, the criminally under-recorded pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, and drummer Matt Wilson. This date is not a session by a group of musicians who've adopted a moniker, but a full-on working band who rehearses, composes, and plays together as often as it can since each member is a working soloist in his own right.
The prime directive here is, not unexpectedly, Ullmann's intense and fluid sense of off-kilter lyricism. His seamless approach to the horn and staggered sense of open harmonics and tonal structuralism are ever-present. What is surprising is his pairing with Stevens on the front line. Stevens is a knotty pianist whose early influences were Cecil Taylor and Mary Lou Williams. His stunning architectural renderings of vast, previously unshaped chords; minor shadings; and furious ostinato are tremendous solo gifts, but in this ensemble, they create a wide and deep floor for not only Ullmann as a soloist, but for the rhythm section as well. What's more, Stevens provides the necessary punch and clamor for the band to swing unencumbered by their considerably complex improvisational style, which is often slipped inside a scored section or bridge.
A fine example is Joe Fonda's "Could This Be a Polka," an effortless series of off-minor piano phrases strung together by the bass line and loped into a melody by Ullmann's gorgeous restraint and willingness to turn the harmony inside out in an even exchange with the impressionistically beautiful melody. Elsewhere, the band's theme, written by Ullmann, features all of the band's intensity and tension in a furiously paced, yet wonderfully rendered melodic architecture of tonal inquiry and multi-scalar invention. But it is Stevens' shimmering balladry on "Liquid Cage" that brings all of the band's influences into play. There is the sense of silence and tension as compositional elements à la Morton Feldman, the notion of tonality itself as a construct of not only sonic dimension, but metaphysical space as well.
The idea that rhythm can exist in a melody this intricate and subtle is revolutionary, but Fonda and Wilson carve out a space in inner space and inform and extend the improvisational structures that emanate from the heart of Stevens' gloriously restrained pianism. This is a remarkable record with a surprise at the end that will leave the listener wondering why this band isn't headlining festivals all over the world.
michael jefry stevens has performed a.o. with dave douglas, mark feldman, leo smith, gerry hemingway, cecil bridgewater, valery ponomarev, dominic duval, dave liebman and billy martin. a sampling of his discography includes the fonda/stevens group 'evolution', 'the equinox trio' feat. dominic duval and 'haiku' feat violinist mark feldman (all on leo records)
joe fonda has been recording and touring over the last several years with anthony braxton and is featured bassist on numerous recordings with mr. braxton including the famed charlie parker project recordings as well as the piano quartet recordings with braxton on piano. he has performed a.o. with ken mcintyre, charlie persip, lou donaldson, perry robinson, kenny barron, leo smith, curtis fuller and chico hamilton. he recently recorded his first solo bass cd and has released numerous cds on the konnex label, leo records and music and arts.
matt wilson was recently selected by downbeat magazine as one of the 25 rising stars for the future and was chosen best new artist by the new york jazz critics circle in 1997. he has appeared on 6o recordings as a sideman and has released three acclaimed albums as a leader for palmetto records. he currently tours with dewey redman, cecil mcbee, lee konitz, joanne brackeen, marty ehrlich and has performed/recorded with tom harrell, michael brecker, john zorn, eddie henderson, bobby watson, fred hersch, bennie golson, phil woods, steve kuhn a.o.
george schuller is a founding member of orange then blue, and has recorded and produced all five of 'orange then blue's' releases over the last 16 years including the latest on gm recordings entitled 'hold the elevator': live in europe and other haunts'. he has released several albums as a leader including the latest entitled 'hellbent' released in dec. 2002 on playscape recordings featuring the schulldogs with tim berne, tony malaby and ed schuller. schuller appears on joe lovano's 'rush hour' (blue note) which was voted album of the year by downbeat Critics ('95) and was nominated for a grammy the same year.
he has also recorded and/or produced cd's with tom varner, luciana souza, ed schuller, bill dearango, lisa thorson, ballin' the jack, mario pavone, mike musillami, bevan manson, mili bermejo, tom beckham, andrew rathbun, miles donahue, eugene maslov and gunther schuller. since graduating from the new england conservatory of music in 1982 he has performed with dee dee bridgewater, lee konitz, nnenna freelon, jaki byard, danilo perez, dave douglas, kenny werner, george adams, fred hersch, mose allison, the wdr orchestra among many others.
Tourdaten März 2003
6.3. Krefeld, Jazzkeller
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