More electronics, please: With a concert by Gebhard Ullmann’s Trio Das Kondensat, the second Darmstadt Jazz Festival “Dazz” begins on Friday evening. He can not be seen, but Gebhard Ullmann celebrated his sixtieth birthday a few weeks ago. The list of formations, albums and transatlantic collaborations that he initiated in just over three decades is correspondingly long.
The saxophonist, clarinettist and composer has always struck hooks stylistically and surprised with unconventional combinations. The Ensemble Ta Lam united up to ten woodwinds and an accordionist, in the trio BassX3 two double bass players played on Ullmann’s side, the Clarinet Trio, which is purely focused on clarinets, is still active today. Compared with that, the band seems to have condensed the condensate in a relatively traditional way. The artistically special, to which the individualist Ullmann is always on the trail, manifests itself here in the pointed use of electronics. And of course in the detailed and powerful playing of the woodwind, who also masters various flutes.
The idea of combining conventional instruments with effect units and synthetic tone generators is also a long way off at Ullmann. “At the beginning of the eighties we played punk jazz with electronics in Hamburg”, he says: “Before that I had a penchant for British progressive rock bands.” At that time, Ullmann wired a lyricon with an Oberheim synthesizer and thus approached the musical process of the pop avant-garde. After a period of experimentation, he put the devices aside again, concentrated on nuances of acoustic sounds and explored varieties of free improvisation and microtonality. Some years ago, he resumed the electrical thought. As a core idea for The Condensate, he sees the idea of spontaneous and flexible improvisation with the latest electro-acoustic equipment, which allows quick access.
His partners in this trio are a lot younger, but stylistically just as versatile and priced as he is. Bassist Oliver Potratz, born in 1973, plays contemporary and improvised music alongside Bobby McFerrin, Tomasz Stanko, Rolf Kühn, John Schröder and Christian Lillinger. In Frankfurt, Potratz was last seen with the Afghan-German project Safar. The drummer Eric Schaefer, born in 1976, has been shining for 15 years as a rhythmic backbone and composer in Michael Wollny’s trio, formerly Trio Em, as well as in his own bands, such as Eric Schaefer & The Shredz. Potratz and Schaefer have been working together since 2003 in different constellations. Condensate with Gebhard Ullmann was created in 2010.
“We changed our equipment several times and developed a specific sound together for a long time,” says Ullmann on the relatively late appearance of the debut album last October. Analog and digital effects units, modular synthesizers and Looper add distinctive accents in some pieces, while others remain reserved or pausing. Already on the album the dynamics are immense. It ranges from fragile, atmospheric passages with long floating hues and partially brushed bass to hints of minimalism, dub and African patterns, to robust rock jazz with an anarchic attitude in which Schaefer seems to follow his youthful hardcore times.
In addition, Ullmann snarls shimmering to abstract saxophone modulations as well as sharp-edged-rhythmic and noisy phrases. In delicate melodies his timbre takes on an elegant-warm color, the next rough eruption usually does not seem far away. Sometimes he plays virtually with himself by retrieving previously recorded samples. One of them sounds like trombone, but it was written on a bass clarinet without a mouthpiece.
Ullmann grew up in a musical family in Bonn. “Everyone was playing for grades, but I wanted to improvise,” he recalls and laughs. Even as a teenager, he attended concerts by Krzysztof Penderecki and the Jazz Festival Moers, heard Krautrock and met budding rock stars like Queen at the bar. After high school he studied first in Hamburg, in 1983 he came to Berlin. Here he quickly established himself as a sought-after professional musician, initiator and organizer with talent and commitment. Today, after more than 50 albums as a leader and co-leader on German and international labels, Ullmann is still full of energy. “If I want to take a break, I have to go abroad for holidays,” says the passionate world traveler and kite athlete with a grin. His game is as energetic as ever. “It has always been my goal not to overdo, to convey the expression in all nuances. Today, the crescendo is still simmering a little longer.”