Gebhard Ullmann's Conference Call | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Gebhard Ullmann's Conference Call 

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Reedist Gebhard Ullmann weds the German fascination with order to the anarchic impulses of post-60s American jazz to make music that moves like clockwork even in its most chaotic moments. The 45-year-old, who focuses on tenor and soprano sax and bass clarinet, shuttles between New York and Berlin, where he applies this concept in half a dozen very different bands--among them a clarinet trio (represented by a new Leo Records release, the aptly named Translucent Tones), a New York quartet called Basement Research, featuring the well-regarded young saxist Tony Malaby, and the fascinating Ta Lam Zehn, a ten-piece reed band with three bass clarinets, a baritone sax, and an accordion. By far the straightest of Ullmann's groups is the one he brings to Chicago, a traditionally instrumented quartet named Conference Call. Its forthcoming album, Final Answer (Soul Note), features three Americans with a proven aptitude for straddling the mainstream and the freedom trail: pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummer Matt Wilson (who'll be replaced for this engagement by George Schuller, son of famed composer Gunther). Ullman being the only horn man--a situation in which he rarely finds himself--the recording provides a smart showcase for the full range of his expression, setting his striking timbres in bas-relief against the rhythm section. He has what critic Bill Shoemaker has called "razor-sharp diction," but he's also fluent in the smeary, loose-fitting phraseology (adapted from Ornette Coleman) that distinguishes the last quarter-century of American reed work. He knows when to pull which tool out of the chest, and he uses the many devices at his disposal as means to an end, shaping his improvisations like a sculptor. Saturday, September 21, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. Sunday, September 22, 8 PM, Nevin's Live, 1450 Sherman, Evanston; 847-869-0450.

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