Multi-reedman Gebhard Ullmann is accustomed to performing within smaller modern jazz ensembles, generally teetering on the freer side of matters. With his big band project, Ullmann’s horn charts seemingly extend his customary compositional style into a larger sound. Yet he doesn’t always adhere to the tried and true, which is an attribute that provides a cleverly articulated focal point here, with this big band extravaganza.
On this release, the German, NDR Orchestra featuring New York City based drummer Tom Rainey generate gobs of fireworks. To that end, Ullmann’s brainchild rings like a mosaic of post-modern, large ensemble type fare. Essentially, the leader of this date proves that elements of risk-taking can evolve into a fruitful adventure. The arrangements are bold and brassy, as these compositions are devised upon ethereal flute passages intertwined with gravitating choruses, hard-rock electric guitar parts and more. It’s a study in contrasts where firm back-beats coalesce with traditional jazz piano trio movements and cunning shifts in strategy. The band ventures into bluesy dreamscapes amid a myriad of developments such as march-band progressions amid Ullmann’s brawny tenor sax and bass clarinet phrasings. But, this outing is not all about throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. What Ullmann does here -- besides implanting his personal slant into the project -- is to fuse slightly disparate frameworks into a set that predominately, makes sense! Brimming with serious improvisational forays, and other facets such as Middle Eastern modal concepts, Ullmann simply contemporizes the big band genre. These pieces contain cohesive storylines, topped off with identifiable melodies and multi-genre stylizations. And it all transparently morphs into something quite tangible, supplanted by an excitable fun-factor that beckons repeated spins. (Essential listening.... )