“We’re playing in here?” is something every improvising or experimental musician must’ve said at some point, given the all-too-often unavoidably shoestring-run venues that tend to host the music. It’s also the name of an album of impeccable contemporary acoustic jazz by the quartet of saxophonist/bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullman, trombonist Steve Swell, double bassist Hilliard Greene, and drummer Barry Altschul.
The album’s five tracks, all but one of them written by Swell, strike a balance between free flights of solo improvisation and tightly scored melodies for ensemble. The post-bop swing of the opener Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon leads to La Mariposa, a feature for Ullmann’s vocal-like acrobatics on bass clarinet. Like Ullmann, Hilliard on this track reaches into his own instrument’s upper register, which he plays with a beautifully clear articulation. Sketch #4, the third track, is like the first track driven by Altschul’s propulsive swing, but at a higher velocity. The title track moves from an opening gambit of extended technique for trombone—air notes and other unpitched noises—into a loosely structured, collective polyphonic improvisation that culminates in an unexpected unison melody. The final piece, Ullmann’s Kleine Figuren #1, is a high-energy piece that includes a long-lined melody and a solo for Altschul. Superb music from four superb musicians.
No Business has another release of high-quality acoustic jazz with For You I Don’t Want to Go, a duet of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and double bassist Michael Bisio. The recording consists of a single 37 minute-long track that flows seamlessly from a free improvisation to Knuffe’s composition For You I Don’t Want to Go, back to a free improvisation and then into Bisio’s composition Sea Vamp. The playing is energetic and thoughtful, moving the music along with a momentum that never lags. Knuffke and Bisio complement each other well over the course of the performance’s many evolutions, with Bisio’s rapid pizzicato put on particularly prominent display.