Conference Call

Variations on a Master Plan

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Even taking into account Gebhard Ullmann's outstanding discography, this is an extraordinary release due in large part to one of the most impressive rhythm sections on either side of the Atlantic. Ullmann rises to the occasion with some of his most inspired work on disc, and when it is over the only question the listener is likely to ask is: Why isn't Ullmann better known than he is? His full-sound on tenor sax resounds with the consistency of a thick chocolate shake, and on Joe Fonda's "Circle," the intense interplay of the band takes hold, leading to outstanding camaraderie and interaction. This is a group that indulges in diversity, and one minute the mood may be upbeat and fanciful, and the next morose and somber, but there is no question that Ullmann knows where he is going. The drawn-out pace of "Variations on a Theme by Claude Debussy," for example, finds Ullmann on his bass clarinet, gently and even romantically waxing lyrically, with Michael Jefry Stevens holding court, and Han Bennink sporadically socking the rim. Nino Rota's "Parlami" (arranged by Ullmann) is, suitably, interpreted whimsically, sounding like something out of the Carla Bley or Willem Breuker catalog. At his best, Ullmann treads that fine line between playing chords and venturing out on a limb; a balancing act that he handles with finesse. At times, as on the free-wheeling "Improvisation No. 2" (Where is No. 1?), there are few restraints, while on the closing "Song for My Mother" (an inevitable title after Horace Silver's well-known "Song for My Father"), the saxophonist rises above the slow rumble of the rhythm trio with long, powerful Coltrane-esque tones.

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