Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ullmann-Swell 4 and Their "News? No News!"

This exact band (Ullmann, reeds; Swell, trombone; Greene, bass; Altschul, drums) recorded on Cadence in 2004, producing a rather exciting disk which I've reviewed in a posting on this site (see below). They return with a superb avant jazz set today on the Jazzwerkstatt release News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt 068).

This is a well-matched set of players. Gebhard Ullmann plays a raucous, probing tenor and a snaky, fleet bass clarinet; Steve Swell is one of the handful of truly premier avant trombonist working today, a master of projection and color, extroversion and subtlety; Hilliard Greene plays a foundational bass that figures prominently in all that happens on this album. He is a rock. Barry Altschul has been an important innovative force in jazz-improv drumming ever since his seminal work with Paul Bley and Chick Corea, among many others. He sounds better than ever here. Whip-snap swing and a melodic approach to the full drum kit are what you expect from Mr. Altschul, and you get it here, for sure.

With my descriptions above, you might expect that this music just HAS to be good. Sometimes a group that should be really terrific on paper never seems to get it going in real time. That is not true here. This is modern improvisational avant jazz at its finest. But be careful. You may wake up your cat when you play it!

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