CD review: Conference Call – Prism 2020: Video, CD cover

- in New CD's Review, VIDEOS

The Conference Call 4tet has existed in different configurations for around two decades and currently consists of the German saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann, the American bass player Joe Fonda, the American pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and the Swiss drummer Dieter Ulrich.

Especially the drummers changed in the band. Han Bennink was heard on drums as well as George Schuller and Gerry Hemingway. Dieter Ulrich is currently sitting at the “shooting gallery”. The current band members are responsible for the following compositions such as “F.J.D”, “Prism”, “Listen to Dr. Cornell West ”and“ Variation of a Master Plan ”. The following tracks can also be heard on the album: “Sal’s Song”, “The Bee” and “Zeit Lupe”.

The composer and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, one of the most important representatives of contemporary jazz who sees himself as international, can be heard not only with Conference Call 4tet, but also with the Fonda / Stevens Group and with the Eastern Boundary Quartet on the jazz stages of the world . Stevens has written over 340 compositions in recent decades, including those that found their place on the Conference Call Quartet’s eighth album.

The album title means “Prisma” in German. “Prism” is also a top-secret surveillance program by the US intelligence agency NSA. So what does the title refer to? Probably not on the mentioned secret service, but rather on the geometric body, the prism. This is a special polyhedron. In the optics, the prism serves to refract the light. This aspect seems to match the album title. The reflection and the redirection of light by means of a prism can be understood in the figurative sense as the musical refraction and change that is concentrated in the music of the quartet. Or?

The album opens with the composition “F.J.D”: If the musicians of the quartet still vote, one wonders when listening to the first bars. It sounds like a frenzy of sound that we are experiencing. This is primarily staged by Gebhard Ullmann. It may sound strange, but with the lines that Ullmann recites, the reviewer sees the image of flies and other insects that spend the last seconds of their life whirring and whirring on a glue rod. One or the other escapes the deadly trap and flies away, as suggested by the sequences that follow. One could also think of this in view of the cascading that Michael Jefry Stevens is responsible for. By the way, Steven’s game is characterized by “falls” and “breaks”. Tone for tone, drops the same, “Prism” begins. Fragility seems to be inherent in Stevens’ play, even if the bass keys are made to swing here and there. Gebhard Ullmann raises his voice with equanimity. As in Gerhard Richter’s streaked paint paintings, the passages we hear appear: flat and streaky. And then glass-fragile sounds appear again, thanks to Stevens on the piano. Joe Fonda’s bass playing sounds like heavy steps trudging through deep snow. The saxophone sounds a little hoarse and croaky, which can be heard below. A deep-throated wind player unites with a grounded bass player at the beginning of “Variation of a Master Plan”. Bell-tight, on the other hand, are the few settings that Stevens is responsible for, while Joe Fonda makes himself heard with a dark Plong-Plong. Stevens and Fonda move in opposite directions in the sound colors. Every now and then the saxophone buzzes in the baritone. Or isn’t it a bass clarinet that we hear? As it progresses, it appears that Ullmann is commenting on Stevens’ passages that are lost in the treble. In this piece, too, the image of the fragment comes to mind, but not in the sense of a mosaic to be put together.

“Sal’s Song” can be classified between blues and work song, at least in the opening passages. With his partly free play, Gebhard Ullmann breaks through the bluesy river and then comes back to it in a row. Doesn’t that seem cool jazz too? In “The Bee” a prankster might think of a similar musical pattern to that in Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”. But far from it. The bee whispers very slowly at the Conference Call 4tet. If you want to develop an image sequence for music, it is that the bee initially cleanses and only then carefully starts to collect nectar. Yes, a certain buzz can already be heard thanks to Gebhard Ullmann. However, the voice almost reminds of a hornet rather than a bee. Is there not an ascent and descent of the bee in flight in the melody lines? Crystalline sound mixes with deep throat sounds and occasional high-pitched whirring. What does that mean? Are there sound experiences around a beehive? Such images are pressing.


1. F.J.D. 6:13
2. Prism 5:39
3. Listen to Dr. Cornell West 12:53
4. Variation on a Master Plan 6:29
5. Sal’s Song 9:01
6. The Bee 7:34
7. Zeit Lupe 5:39

Gebhard Ullmann – tenor saxophone
Michael Jefry Stevens – piano
Joe Fonda – bass
Dieter Ulrich – drums

Squidco: Conference Call (Gebhard Ullmann / Michael Jefry Stevens ...

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