Gebhard Ullmann | Michael Jefry Stevens | Joe Fonda | George Schuller | Conference Call | What About…? | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2010 | MW 829-2 | CD

Gebhard Ullmann – tenor & soprano saxes, bass clarinet | Michael Jefry Stevens – piano | Joe Fonda – bass | George Schuller – drums & percussion

Recorded live at Alchemia, Krakow, Poland on April 22, 2007. Recorded by Michal Rosicki. Mixed by George Schuller. Mastered by Jens Tröndle on November 19, 2008. Inside Artist Sketch by Zoltan Bicskei. Photo collage by Michael Jefry Stevens. Design by Marek Wajda.

All compositions by Gebhard Ullmann, Michael Jefrey Stevens and Joe Fonda are registered with GEMA. George Schuller’s music is published by Schulldog Music – BMI.

We would like to thank: Marek Winiarski, Die Holzbläser Berlin, Paul Kinzelmann (ESM) for the beautiful bass clarinet mouthpiece and Jos Demol for his continued support of our music.

Tracklist: CD 1 – 1. After Like (Part 1) (Ullmann, Stevens, Fonda, Schuller) [12:05] 2. After Like (Part 2) (Ullmann, Stevens, Fonda, Schuller) [06:08] 3. What About The Future? (Stevens) [07:49] 4. Circle (Fonda) [09:12] 5. Conference Call (Ullmann) [17:25]

Tracklist: CD 2 – 1. After Like (Part 3) (Ullmann, Stevens, Fonda, Schuller) [14:07] 2. Could This Be A Polka? (Stevens) [11:00] 3. Litmus (Schuller) [06:16]4. Translucent Tones (Gestalt In Three) (Ullmann) [08:03] 5. What About…? (Ullmann, Stevens, Fonda, Schuller) [06:46]

Conference Call | Photo © Jos L.Knaepen

The quartet was formed in 1998

and features original music from each member of the group utlizing the distinctive improvisational and textural talents of each of the 4 members: Gebhard Ullmann’s extensive woodwind pallette (bass clarinet, bass flute, tenor and soprano sax); the textural and timbral virtuosity of drummer George Schuller; the organic and highly creative piano/bass interplay between Joe Fonda and Michael Jefry Stevens. All these ingredients create a highly creative and unique variety of musical flavors.

Pianist/Composer Michael Jefry Stevens performs extensively in Europe and North America. He was the ‘Margaret Lee Crofts Fellow for 2000-2001 ” at the MacDowell Artist Colony, received 2nd prize in the prestigious Monaco International Jazz Composition Contest and was a composer fellow at Centrum Arts in Port Townsend, WA in the summer of 2006. Michael currently co-leads several working musical ensembles including The Fonda/Stevens Group, the Conference Call Quartet, Eastern Boundary Quartet, Southern Excursion Quartet, In transit Quartet, and the Griffith/Stevens Quartet featuring vocalist Miles Griffith. He has released over 60 cds which feature his original music including most recently “What About…?” on Nottwo Records and”Six” on Konnex Records.. Artists he has performed and/or recorded with include Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Han Bennink, Charles Moffett, Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponomarev,, Gerry Hemingway, Miles Griffith, Leo Smith, Thomas Chapin, Gebhard Ullmann, Herb Robertson,, Matt Wilson, Dominic Duval and Dave Liebman.

Bassist/composer Joe Fonda has developed an extensive international reputation over the last several years recording and touring with the world-reknowned Anthony Braxton including performances at some of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals including the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Istanbul International Jazz Festival. He is also featured bassist on numerous recordings with Mr. Braxton including the famed Charlie Parker Project Recordings as well as the piano quartet recordings with Braxton on piano. Mr. Fonda has performed with such notable musicians as Ken McIntyre, Charlie Persip, Lou Donaldson, Perry Robinson, Kenny Barron, Leo Smith, Curtis Fuller, Chico Hamilton and others. He recently recorded his first solo bass CD and has released numerous CDs on the Konnex jazz label, Leo Records and Music and Arts label. He is the co-founder of the FAB trio featuring Barry Altschul and Billy Bang.

Saxophonist, bass clarinetist and composer Gebhard Ullmann has recorded more than 30 CDs as a leader/co-leader for labels such as Soul Note, Leo Records, Between the Lines, 482 Music, Songlines Recordings and Intuition Records. He is considered one of the leading personalities in today’s international jazz scene and has received several awards for his work including the Julius Hemphill Composition Award (’99), and the nomination “best jazz CD of the year” by the German Schallplattenkritik for his CD “Tá Lam” in 1996. He has toured extensively with his music and performed on most of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals. Musicians he has performed or recorded with include Paul Bley, Ellery Eskelin, Willem Breuker, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Barry Altschul, Keith Tippett,Glen Moore,TrilokGurtu, EnricoRava, Michael Moore, Art LandeandHamid Drake.

George Schuller has released several albums as a leader including the latest entitled Round’bout Now (Dec. 2003) featuring Ingrid Jensen and Donny McCaslin and JigSaw with Mark Feldman and Tony Malaby. Schuller also leads the Schulldogs which includes his brother, bassist Ed Schuller along with Herb Robertson and Rich Perry. Schuller appears on Joe Lovano’s Rush Hour (Blue Note) and has also recorded and/or produced CD’s with Orange Then Blue, Ran Blake, Tom Varner, Luciana Souza,Mike Musillami Trio, Ballin’ The Jack, Mili Bermejo, Miles Donahue and Gunther Schuller. Since graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1982, he has performed with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lee Konitz, Jaki Byard, Dave Douglas, George Adams, Fred Hersch,and Tim Berne.

Conference Call | Photo by Fred Van Wulften


Gebhard Ullmann on tenor & soprano saxes & bass clarinet, Michael Jefry Stevens on piano, Joe Fonda on contrabass and George Schuller on drums & percussion. This is the sixth great disc from Conference Call which always includes Ullmann, Stevens & Fonda but had three different drummers (Gerry Hemingway, Han Bennink & Matt Wilson) before settling on George Schuller. All members of this quartet have a variety of other projects or bands that they run or work with and all members contribute compositions, as well as some group improvisations. This double disc was recorded live at Alchemia, Krakow, Poland April 22nd 2007. Expertly recorded and well-captured, this is one monster quartet! “After Like” is a strong group improv in three parts, each one strong and intense but rarely over-the-top. The communication & interplay is extraordinary with a consistent weaving of various lines around one another. The temperature rises to boiling point on the first part of this sprawling work. The ever-amazing Joe Fonda pulls off the first of numerous spirited bass solos here, pushing the quartet & inner vibe higher & higher. Actually all four members of this colossal quartet take a number of inspired solos throughout. Michael J. Stevens’ “What About the Future?” is a most exquisite, lovely tune that would be loved by millions if they had a chance to here it. It features some splendid bass clarinet from Ullmann. Gebhard plays some spirited soprano sax on “Circle” with some strong support by the other members of this great quartet. At over 100 minutes, between two discs, this entire set is excellent throughout on many levels. I would be wonderful if Conference Call made their way to New York so we could experience them live. In the meantime this fantastic disc will have to do. — Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

Recorded live in Poland

the sixth CD by the Conference Call quartet features improvised and freely interpreted original compositions by musicians in tune with each others pulse as they explore the far ends of their instruments. Lovely impressionistic piano passages segue into sad slightly discordant cabaret; there are echoes of Coltrane an klezmer, moments of silence and shrieking, turbulence and calm. Conference Call is a worthy heir to the direction set by the jazz avant-garde in the 1960s. — David Luhrssen ( 7/2010

Conference Call no longer needs introduction.

It’s the stellar free jazz band consisting of Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and bass clarinet, Michael Jefry Stevens on piano, Joe Fonda on bass, and George Schuller on drums. A kind of supergroup if you want.

The first piece, called “After Like, Part 1” is fully improvised and creates an otherwordly eery environment, without real established rhythm, or patterns whatsoever. It is organic and flows like the wind, grows like nature, with the power and drive increasing as it moves forward. It is fantastic. The next piece is in the same vein, certainly at the beginning closer to free improv than to jazz.

Then you have a style-shift for the next three pieces, which are composed, and built around traditional concepts, although they do evolve into exploratory timbral excursions, yet the harmonics, the theme remain the central focal point, whether ballad-like, as on “What About The Future?”, or boppish as on “Circle”.

CD2 starts with “After Like, Part 3”, the qualitative equivalent of the first tracks of the first CD, fully in the same vein, and equally stellar: Ullmann’s playing is fabulous, but the eery accents by Stevens, Fonda’s arco and Schuller’s extended use of percussive possibilities are of the same high level.

But then to my dismay, the next piece is a polka! True, it gets the necessary deconstruction, but to hear this somewhat humorous track after you’ve been entranced by a fabulous musical universe, is a real shame. “Litmus” is boppish again, and the last two pieces could again be part of the more serious atmosphere of the first track. Ullmann is better than I have heard him before.

So you get the bizarre mixture of real artistic creation with some silly or plain entertaining music, true, all brought with great skills and drive, but somehow not fitting together.

A selection of the best pieces on the album would have resulted in a real musical treat. Two great albums in two different styles somehow got mixed here. —

One of the finest improvising units working today

Conference Call is a complete band, capable of touching all the jazz bases, be they individual or group improvisation, or the performance of composed music. The quintet’s sixth release, What About…? is a two-disc session from the band’s 10th anniversary tour, and was recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland.

Conference Call’s lineup has remained stable for the past three releases—since drummer George Schuller took a drum chair once held by Matt Wilson, Han Bennink, and Gerry Hemingway—and follows Poetry In Motion (Clean Feed, 2008) and past discs on Soul Note, 482 Music and Leo Records. This is the group’s second live recording, allowing the band to stretch out and convey its music in an unhurried manner. The three-part “After Like” presents 32 minutes of group improvisation, across two discs. The band’s instant creation covers multiple direction and moods, and allows for varied pairings and individual improvisations. The sweep of this music focuses on collective sound and the panoramas available those willing to take the journey.

Although the high energy pieces gel quite nicely, the more introspective tracks—”Translucent Tones (Gestalt In Three)” and “What About The Future?”—are the highlights of the set. The former moves with the snaking motion of Schuller’s hand drumming, bells, and maracas, and the pinging of Stevens’ piano, as Ullman brings forth some stately, solemn bass clarinet to set the mood. The latter piece finds Ullmann tracing his tenor saxophone against Fonda’s bass, edging it into the upper register without breaking the mood. Both pieces are touchingly beautiful.

Elsewhere, Conference Call balances a left-handed bit of bebop with “Circle,” with Ullman working out on soprano while Stevens rings out some chords that Thelonious Monk might have conceived. “Could This Be A Polka?” is just that, with a wry sense of old Europe, as the band crawls through the track, and stops and dissects it into solos by each player, before putting an exhausted polka to bed. Same for the crowd—undoubtedly exhausted, and quite happy. — Mark Corroto – All About Jazz



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One thought on “Gebhard Ullmann | Michael Jefry Stevens | Joe Fonda | George Schuller | Conference Call | What About…? | Not Two Records

  1. It has been said that live music offers the composer the opportunity to add the final ingredient in the decoction of their creation: the audience. In the case of Conference Call’s 2007 concert in Krakow, Poland, documented on the double-disc What About…?, there’s the dramatic addition of completely spontaneous, improvisations by one or more of the fiercely creative quartet. It’s also why the mercury rises fast and furious from the get-go; the musicians taking ownership of their evolving sound, as its dramaturgy remains rich, and full of blood, guts and naked emotion throughout. Not that the group wears its hearts on its sleeves, but this inventive music clearlyemerges directly from the artists’ souls.

    The soul does not disguise the feelings of nervy minds, not in the case of Conference Call, at any rate. Questions are asked: “What About the Future?” The answers are complex and probative, but always dazzling, like the assault of a myriad lights of a new city. Things look good: reedman Gebhard Ullmann’s saxophone swings; drummer George Schuller’s skins fibrillate, flashy and cock-sure; Joe Fonda’s bass is grave and sonorous and roars from the depths; and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens is playful, his arpeggios skittering and tearing up the keys. Resolution is, at times, full of towering architecture and immediacy, while elsewhere, songs develop without the haste of arrival. Their enigma is held over until the audience is left gasping for breath. “After Life” is spread likewise over two burgeoning sections until it is brought to a dramatic close in “Part 3,” on the second disc.

    Yet not everything dallies, seemingly testing the wind with ideas, phrases and long loping lines. Some songs move more rapidly, searing the ears like brilliant flashes of speeding light. Again, their movement is anything but predictable, with “Circle” moving in waves. “Conference Call” is more elusive: at times, an oblique shout out to Steve Lacy; at other times a quick call to Heiner Stadler, at the time he was involved in his A Tribute to Monk and Charlie Parker (Tomato, 1978). History is well learned, and kept alive through dissonance and consonance. Heritage is playfully encountered in “Could This be a Polka,” and then again, more pensively, in “Translucent Tones (Gestalt in Three).”

    The collective sonic palette explored further in “Litmus” and “What About…?” is anything but uncertain, being, perhaps, the start of a new, elastic dialogue to add volumes to the literature of music. The poetics of music have been well preserved by Conference Call.

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