Appreciating a combination of voices belonging to the same instrumental species implies the necessity of understanding the respective positions in the contrapuntal tissue. In a way, it’s like sitting at a table during a family reunion, attempting to weigh and mentally judge every sentence coming from relatives not seen for a long time but whose opinion is still esteemed. In the case of clarinetists Jurgen Kupke, Michael Thieke and Gebhard Ullmann we discover lots of meaningful snippets embedded in a joint conversation that never risks to spiral down to futile babbling.
After the first half of the concert, the trio welcomes alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov on stage. In keeping with the “family” logic, the Russian represents a sort of cordial improver, adding a somewhat disjunctive perspective to already interesting exchanges of opinions. His phrasing does not introduce breakups in the fundamental essence of the collective breathing; on the contrary, by suggesting oblique parallelisms to a well-rehearsed course of action we perceive an enhancement of the “researching factor” right then and there. These are the moments in which knowledgeable musicians can push their intuition beyond what’s expectable, involving the audience in a deeper education by bringing them “inside” the improvised setting in a more literal sense.
In terms of sheer listening pleasure, this record will satisfy those who love no controversy. Emotions are kept in check, but the music is crisp enough to justify the implications of instant creativity. Humor, too, is not lost (see “Animalische Stimmen”). The technical mastery is evidently impressive, especially in view of the four’s ability to keep the virtuosity within the limits of aural appeal without gratuitous skulduggery. This includes segments where the dissonant traits of the interplay would want to take an unsafe control. Finally, Kupke, Thieke, Ullmann and Kruglov show who’s in charge, restoring order with clever exactitude as soon as the juices of a sterile anarchy start boiling too violently.
We had recently reviewed the work of bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann with Bassx3 (also featuring double bassists Chris Dahlgren and Clayton Thomas) when tackling the superb Transatlantic on this very label. Ullmann’s compositions form the spinal column of this CD, the fourth – obviously – by The Clarinet Trio (Ullmann plus Jürgen Kupke and Michael Thieke, the latter employing alto together with the “regular” version of the instrument). These eleven tracks – set apart by an extremely high level of technical conversancy – touch on several aspects that should attract audiences not necessarily limited to the practitioners of the same craft. Stylistically, the pieces range across a whole host of situations: Balkan influences, sloping swinging, stop-and-go scores where intricate contrapuntal layers are followed by linear developments and vice versa; the opening section of “Catwalk Müntzstrasse” sounds like a jarring parallelism between typewriting machines, its impelling power totally absorbing. The broken meters in the brilliant “Kleine Figuren #1” are contrasted by soloist snippets where the three expose their wide-ranging control and sensibility, whereas the subsequent “News? No News!” made me think of ROVA with clarinets in lieu of saxes. The most estimable quality in this music lies in the players’ ability to involve, despite the lack of concessions and the non-use of easy paths to capture the audience’s favours. The listening experience turns out to be a relaxing one, enriched by the sort of levelheaded, intelligently humored proficiency that separates complete musicians – willing to really communicate – from showing-off puppets.
The trio’s name derives from the fact that all the members, in a way or another, play a “bass” instrument. Bass clarinet and bass flute (Gebhard Ullmann), double bass and objects (both Chris Dahlgren and Clayton Thomas). Lowering the outstanding profundity of the collective textural palette to a mere “exploration of the low regions of the acoustic range” definition would be a deadly sin, for Bx3 are one of those units able to instantly elicit a sense of genuine awe. Furthermore, I love when a record transmits an absence of ego ever since its very first instants, which is exactly what happens in Transatlantic. The riveting qualities of coarse-grained drones given out by competent musicians is alone a generous gift, but refined subtleties and bitty variations also abound over the course of these magnificent tracks. The preparations have a definite say – minute string-bouncing, zinging-and-knocking insertions and meticulous placement of well-coordinated “musical noises” frequently orientate the interplay towards the realm of quietly efficient EAI. However, a strong backbone characterizes every instant of the disc: no whistling, no fizzing, no burbling. Tones and upper partials exist and breathe, each with its own special meaning. Their consolidation gives the idea of an earthy progression achieved through a mix of concentrated labour and sensitive reaction to the immediate circumstances. Reciprocal listening and utter ear-openness become nearly tactile when the whole is sized up via headphones. This notwithstanding, we’re not going to deny that the really stirring consequences will be savoured by letting it resonate, thus increasing the vibrational percentage in the air.