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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Catching up with Gebhard Ullmann (Part 2 of 2)

By Paul Acquaro

While part 1 of this feature focused on German saxophonist and bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann's acoustic work, part 2 considers his recent electronic leaning work. We begin by going a bit further back, to 2021 and then shoot ahead into the near future...

GULPH of Berlin - self titled (ESP Disc', 2021)

Ok, so this one was released mid-pandemic in Fall 2021, but it deserves to be a part of this survey, especially since the release concert just finally happened in late 2022 at the B-flat jazz club in Berlin. The premise of this band - aside from the excellent inclusion of euphonium and tricked-out cello - is the extensive use of a live electronics. In fact, that last point is the main difference between the 2014 release of GULF of Berlin (Jazzwerkstatt) which featured 4/5th of the current line-up.

The first letter of each members last name make up the group's name and full line-up is Gerhard Gschlössl on trombone and sousaphone, Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jan Leipnitz on drums and objects, Johannes Fink on double bass and cello, and now Michael Haves' with live sound processing. 
In concert, Haves was sitting facing the band, in the audience, at his extensive electronic set up. While everyone experimented with various electronics, drumming on the sound monitors, or placing all sorts of objects into their instruments, the real game changer was Haves. As the band played, were fed back their own sounds reprocessed, creating both an atmosphere and fifth instrument. This same dynamic permeates the recording, creating a prism of sounds and refracted possibilities.

The acoustic side, however, is not lost and while the overall sound can sometimes become dense and impenetrable ('Joja Romp'), there are many instances of it also being vulnerable ('GG') or quite interconnected and responsive, showcasing the trombone, cello, bass clarinet and sax ('Tellus'). The track '5 Elements' is the most rocking too - Fink's cello becomes a precision weapon, focused and fierce and locked tight with Leipnitz's drumming, while Ullmann and Gschlössl engage in an improvised melee. 
The expanding GULFH features a fantastic line-up of Berlin based musicians whose individual contributions result in a cohesive and enjoyable whole.


Das Kondensat - Andere Planeten (Why Play Jazz, 2023)

Now, a glimpse into the future, both in terms of the album release (as of writing, the April 7th release date is still a few weeks off), but also in terms of the musical vision. Das Kondensat is Ullmann's adventurous electro-acoustic outfit that leans quite heavily to the electro side and Andere Planeten, their third release, travels even further out from the time-bending sounds of their previous recordings. Here, keyboardist Liz Kosack adds her other worldly synthesizer sounds to the collective explorations of Ullmann, bassist Oliver Potratz and drummer Eric Schaefer, all who also add varying layers of electronics and effects. Recorded directly after the sessions for their 2020 release, Das Kondensat 2 (Why Play Jazz), the explorations on Andere Planeten offer a whole different perspective.

Compared with the composed loopy groove driven music of Das Kondensat 2, the fully improvised Andere Planeten is filled with chance and atmosphere. The first track, 'Ich ahne Luft von Anderen Planeten,' Ullman's sound is yearning and layered over celestial ambience. The follow up, 'Otari 1970,' on the other hand, delivers a rhythmic punch that suggests their previous work. Then, tracks like 'Impromptu #4' venture into uncharted territories with the help of Kosack's sly melodies, Ullmann's bifurcated tones, and the telepathic communication between Potratz and Schaefer. 'K2-9b' starts off with the heavenly sounds of droids singing, turns into a rollicking rocker a few minutes in, while its follow up, 'Proxima b,' seems like an long awaited update to Weather Reports' 'I Sing the Body Electric' - by which one can assume it is pretty damn fine.

Andere Planeten is Ullmann's third report from his journey through the time-space continuum, and if we trust these updates, the future of jazz is sounding good!