February 28, 2024

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CD review: Gebhard Ullmann, Steve Swell, Hilliard Greene, Barry Altschul – We’re Playing In Here? 2022: Video, CD cover

“We’re playing in here?” is something every improvising or experimental musician must’ve said at some point, given the all-too-often unavoidably shoestring-run venues that tend to host the music. It’s also the name of an album of impeccable contemporary acoustic jazz by the quartet of saxophonist/bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullman, trombonist Steve Swell, double bassist Hilliard Greene, and drummer Barry Altschul.

The album’s five tracks, all but one of them written by Swell, strike a balance between free flights of solo improvisation and tightly scored melodies for ensemble. The post-bop swing of the opener Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon leads to La Mariposa, a feature for Ullmann’s vocal-like acrobatics on bass clarinet. Like Ullmann, Hilliard on this track reaches into his own instrument’s upper register, which he plays with a beautifully clear articulation. Sketch #4, the third track, is like the first track driven by Altschul’s propulsive swing, but at a higher velocity. The title track moves from an opening gambit of extended technique for trombone—air notes and other unpitched noises—into a loosely structured, collective polyphonic improvisation that culminates in an unexpected unison melody. The final piece, Ullmann’s Kleine Figuren #1, is a high-energy piece that includes a long-lined melody and a solo for Altschul. Superb music from four superb musicians.

No Business has another release of high-quality acoustic jazz with For You I Don’t Want to Go, a duet of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and double bassist Michael Bisio. The recording consists of a single 37 minute-long track that flows seamlessly from a free improvisation to Knuffe’s composition For You I Don’t Want to Go, back to a free improvisation and then into Bisio’s composition Sea Vamp. The playing is energetic and thoughtful, moving the music along with a momentum that never lags. Knuffke and Bisio complement each other well over the course of the performance’s many evolutions, with Bisio’s rapid pizzicato put on particularly prominent display.

We're Playing In Here ? | Gebhard Ullmann / Steve Swell / Hilliard Greene / Barry  Altschul | NoBusiness Records

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