“Vorsprung durch Technik” is a phrase most commonly associated with a leading German car maker. Roughly translated as “advancement through technology”, one might ask the question how is this relevant to music? Well, a car analogy may appear somewhat odd, but if you were to take the aforementioned soundbite and change it slightly to “Vorsprung durch Jazz” (advancement through jazz) and then throw in a large dose of America’s “Pimp my Ride”, Jeremy Clarkson’s head might explode. And that could only be a good thing…
Gebhard Ullmann’s Basement Research celebrate 20 years of making music with their 7th studio album “Hat And Shoes”. Astonishingly, this is Ullmann’s 50th release as a leader or co leader. Undoubtedly Mr Ullmann has been busy. Born in 1957, the multi instrumentalist is one of Germany’s leading musical personalities and one of the most prolific and creatively fertile composer-improvisers working on either side of the Atlantic today. For this album there is an international line-up as he is joined by some of the finest musicians around: Trombonist Steve Swell, saxophonist Julian Arguelles, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Whilst Ullmann is obviously the driving force for Basement Research, one cannot underestimate the contribution of his fellow musicians. German precision engineering is famous the world over, but not so immediately recognised in the jazz idiom. On this evidence it should be. But what really sets this album apart is the improvisation. How much of Ullman’s music is scored, and how much improv is practically impossible to tell. But what I do know is that without the solid structure to work from, it just isn’t going to build or work in a cohesive way.
Driving bass and drums open the album, leading the listener into an onslaught of sound that continues to weave, confuse, shock, surprise and delight throughout its entirety. A double-check is required to see that there really are only five musicians performing here. Much of the soloing is outstanding. At times there appear to be several solos taking place all at once. Are they random? I would suggest not, there is integrity throughout, as the interplay and understanding between the band members is tuned in to a place that few would venture to go. The first two tracks journey at a furious pace, with a muscular, energetic and impatient feel to them. As the dust settles and the album drives on, there is subtlety and beauty to be found, especially on “Five” and “Blue Trees and Related Objects”. Incredible soundscapes and individual brilliance from all five protagonists mark this recording out as something special.
If you’re not into free improv then it’s fair to say your ears might struggle with “Hat And Shoes”. On first listen the words “car crash” may come to mind. Your blood pressure will rise and you’ll be thinking about random acts of road rage. If however, it is, then you are in for a treat. You’ll be thinking of excuses to take the four wheels out onto the wide open road just as an excuse to be alone and put this cd on at full volume.
“Vorsprung durch Jazz” – as they should say in Germany.