Wind-only or horn-only ensembles rely as much as any conflagration on the distinctive sound of the instruments separately and collectively and the distinctive character of the pieces played. Without some special set of qualities things can begin to have a certain sameness.
The Clarinet Trio have all these things going for them. They deliver individual sonarity, a disciplined ensemble sound in a free-flowing context--and both compositions and improvisations that go far from the ordinary.
The new album, simply titled 4 (Leo 622) reflects the members's long association (since the '90s) and the unique makeup of the program. This is Gebhard Ullmann's baby in many ways. He plays bass clarinet in the ensemble and provides all but one of the compositional frameworks (there's an Ornette Coleman work; there are also two collective improvisations by the trio). Joining him for the distinctive group sound are Jurgen Kupke on clarinet and Michael Thieke on alto clarinet and clarinet.
Each composition is its own universe with written-out sections of great motor vibrancy contrasted by quieter moments of relative repose, notes deliberately played sharp by the ensemble for a blue note avant effect, different forms of articulation and dynamics.
The end results are striking. It's a trio with a sound like no other, playing music that is challenging yet appealing, that stretches from the bluesy roots to the newest avant branching off, Ullmann-style.
4 is one of the most interesting and exciting jazz wind ensemble recordings I've heard in years. There are ear-opening blends, a striking originality and a program of great musical ideas worked out with precision, freedom and passion combined.