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The Big Band Project

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Album Review

An important project, not only as part of Gebhard Ullmann's discography but also in the genre of Modern Creative big band jazz, this set of compositions subjects the German composer's finest charts to the writing skills of some of the most sophisticated jazz arrangers active in the early years of the 21st century.Ullmann has always shown a propensity for complex polyrhythmic lines, something that naturally transcends the small group performances for which he is noted. His writing is filled with layers of mystery, often seeming to defy logical resolution, not unlike a novel by John Fowles; but to watch the onion peeled, you must listen closely. Each piece performed by the powerhouse North German Radio Big Band (NDR) was recorded earlier with small groups led by Ullmann, but in some cases the instant interpretations are definitive or at least critical recordings. In almost every way, Ullmann gets it right. For one thing, his choice of arrangers is superb. Chris Dahlgren leaves his axe at home, but he transforms the leader's most famous chart, "Ta Lam," into a brassy, brawny, sprawling production, with pulsing, elephantine trombones and variegated rhythms. Dahlgren's wonderfully weird working of "Blaues Lied" expands its reach harmonically and rhythmically, focusing on the quirky melody, so that even at the sluggish pace at which it begins it stings with a sharpened focus. Satoko Fujii arranged the abstract and pointilistic "D Nee No," with its march-like drumming and powerful contribution from Ullmann on tenor sax. Fujii also arranged "Think Tank," a somber and civil performance that rises and falls like a giant eel. Ullmann was wise to invite the NDR to join him for his first big band bash. The unit is solid, and the solos from the members are refreshingly original, though Ullmann is the dominant soloist, performing with élan on every track. Some of the better known bandmembers include reedist Christof Lauer, baritone saxophonist Julian Arguelles and drummer Tom Rainey, but the lesser known performers also stand out. Stefan Lottemann gives his Albert Mangelsdorff spin on "Kreuzberg Park East," sounding remarkably like the real thing.


Born: November 2, 1957 in Bad Godesberg, Germany

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Multi-instrumentalist Gebhard Ullmann (born on November 2, 1957) grew up near Bonn, studied medicine and music in Hamburg starting 1976, and moved to Berlin in 1983 to live as a professional musician. One year later, the 27-year-old was leading (and co-leading) his own bands, releasing his first albums in 1985. The next few years saw him working with Alexander Von Schlippenbach and Paul Bley (among many others) as well as touring the Middle East, East Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia,...
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The Big Band Project, Gebhard Ullmann
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