Conference Call

Poetry in Motion

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Over a full decade, Conference Call has become one of the premier progressive and modern creative jazz outfits in the world, with only a few in their path. The diligent, clever techniques of pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and uniquely original saxophonist/clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann make a formidable tandem in terms of their shared ideas, similar vision, and ability to emote together or separately. Furthermore, they play in a manner where is it's not as noticeable as when people present entirely composed or improvised music. Bridging the gap between these two aesthetics, Stevens and Ullmann make incredible music by simply doing, and not thinking or pre-conceiving very much. Minor themes are expanded to the free based point of near infinity, always changing, evolving, and growing. Bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller have played with this ensemble for many years, and it shows in their keen sense of when to step forward, back, or provide innate support underneath. In fact, this is one of the more democratic of all jazz bands, they lean heavily on each other, or fire it up at will when they feel the need. The title cut, "Poetry in Motion," is perfectly named, as a resounding chorus of single, tiny, stairstep lines waft from Stevens and Ullmann's bass clarinet, ignited by the probing bass of Fonda, then pronounced as daring, dancing, or churning phrases, stopping, chopped up in free time with light squawks, then returning to small structures in a wonderfully developed and cleverly written piece. On a larger level, Fonda's insistent bass on top of Schuller's tom-tom drums leads into a distinctly Ornette Coleman-like motif during "Next Step," with Stevens breaking away and cutting loose. Schuller uses brushes, cymbals, and a thunder cone on "Quirky Waltz" while Stevens plays dark piano chords leading to a bass clarinet blues from Ullmann, then into deep tango as the band uses a 3/4-plus-two shifting meter. In the blue-grey spirit of Mal Waldron during "The Shining Star," Stevens somehow extracts this color palate in a stealth, foreboding, and skittering manner, with Fonda shading in black with his arco bass, and Ullmann's sighing tenor evoking huge shades of the purple night sky. There's a disconsolate, even angry end of summer theme to "Back to School," another go-round for Ullmann's frequently recorded "Desert...Bleue...East" in a patient, spiritual, worked-up, sped up, animated and calmed progression ended by Schuller's wooden hammer whistle, and a legit ballad "The Path," where Ullmann's soprano sax sings in varying dynamic ranges, but is not overpowering. Another triumphant recording for this extraordinary band of individualists, it should rate highly on critics' and listeners' favorites lists for 2008.

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