Gebhard Ullmann

Bass X3

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Just when you think that he has done it all, sax sophisticate Gebhard Ullmann rolls the die with a new take, this time one that turns the concept of the saxophone-led trio on its face. Perhaps only Ullmann could explore the depths of Hades with such off-handed candor. Two double basses performed by Chris Dahlgren and Peter Herbert form the foundation, with Ullmann's alternating bass flute and bass clarinet providing contrast, while Dahlgren tops it off by doubling on toy sounds and a smattering of electronics. To be sure, the bass flute, despite the adjective "bass," is nonetheless a flute, not a tuba, nor for that matter a bass trombone, so it contrasts starkly with its stringed cousin -- the double bass -- and it is these contrasts and the enormous diversity of sound that fascinate and lure the listener. The results are very different than, say, Ullmann's The Big Band Project, but equally intriguing. Those familiar only with Ullmann's work on various saxophones may be surprised by his virtuosity on flute and clarinet, though his remarkable discography reflects a passionate explorer whose projects bubble with innovative sounds. For this one, highlights abound on almost every track. "Gross and Klein," for example, features overblown flute bursting with short jazz-inflected phrases juxtaposed against one muscular, percussive bass and another simply infused with unadulterated strength. This is followed by "Small Birds/ DreiHolz," with its weird opening sounds that simulate a sickened cornet, backed by frenetically percussive bass, after which Ullmann ultimately breaks through on bass clarinet with singular clarity. The tracks have the ironic sense of being freely improvised yet directed and highly disciplined. There are incredible feats of musical acumen throughout by all three players, the results being alternatively startling, invigorating, disturbing, and even astonishing. Despite what might appear at first blush to be limiting instrumentation, Ullmann does the nearly impossible by maintaining endless variety. While the dirge-like title piece, "BassX3," may at first resemble a somnambulistic ambient chant, the flute's flight of fanciful song rubs the harmonics of the basses with striking contrast. "Blue Mint" has a clear jazz element. The only misfire comes from the closing "Slowliness in Green and Yellow," with the bass clarinet hovering above the two string basses, the piece dragging and faltering under its own weight. Overall, though, this is an innovative and unusual recording, and another worthy addition to Gebhard Ullmann's remarkable body of work.

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