‘The Clarinet Trio – 4’ = GEBHARD ULLMANN: May 5; Blaues Viertel: Collectives #13, #14; Homogenous Emotions; Catwalk Műnzstrasse; Waters; Kleine Figuren #1; News? No News!; Geringe Abweichungen von der Norm; Kleine Figuren #1 (Variation); Kleine Figuren #2 – The Clarinet Trio (Jűrgen Kupke, clarinet/ Michael Thieke, alto clarinet, clarinet/ Gebhard Ullmann, bass clarinet) – Leo Records CD LR 622 (Distr. by City Hall Records), 50:59 **1/2 :
I did not know anything about Gebhard Ullmann until now. The German saxophonist and clarinet virtuoso studied music at the University of Hamburg and also studied medicine from 1976 till 1983. He moved to Berlin in 1983 and started to work professionally as a composer and musician. Since 1993, Ullmann has lived in New York as well as in Berlin. Clearly an accomplished performer and very creative composer, Ullmann took first prize at the German Phono Academy competition (with Andreas Willers). He and his groups have made several TV appearances, have written compositions for the Radio Big Band Copenhagen and have performed chamber music regularly as part of a trio with keyboards and vocals.
The Clarinet Trio from Germany are all very fine performers but who specialize in the extreme extended techniques and most atypical possibilities of their instruments. Squeals, altissimo notes, multiphonics, quarter-tones and the like permeate this set of eleven short – but quite unusual – pieces for clarinet, alto clarinet and bass clarinet. I do admire their skills. I know firsthand that most of what Ullmann, Kupke and Thieke are doing is actually quite difficult and pretty impressive.
However, here’s the thing. Music is either easy to listen to, to hold the attention, or not. I found the music interesting in spots. Personally, I found Waters with its “dripping” lines pretty interesting and I also enjoyed the jazz-tinged propulsions of the Kleine Figuren #1 and #2 (as well the Variation on #1) kind of fun. The opening piece, May 5, has a nervous energy to it that keeps you involved with a very “klezmer-like” intensity – until it sort of dissolves into some outrageous shrieking and wailing. Ullmann has some roots as a performer and arranger in some of the very progressive, hardcore European jazz scene. His background and talent does show through.
My own reaction to this set, though, is that this is a tough listen. I am very familiar with all sorts of contemporary music and I did find this to be interesting stuff. I do not think, though, that this is the kind of music I would put in out of repeated interest. Clarinetists may – probably would – admire the technique and skill of the ensemble and some tight group playing. Modern music aficionados – those very in tune to the very unusual – might find this at least interesting and, at best, highly creative. This is not at all for the average curiosity-seeking casual listener. I’m afraid those folks would struggle.
A grand tour of Beethoven’s Middle Period Piano Sonatas