Conference Call
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Conference Call

Berlin, Berlin, Germany | Established. Jan 01, 1998 | INDIE

Berlin, Berlin, Germany | INDIE
Established on Jan, 1998
Band Jazz Acoustic

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Nov
03
Conference Call @ James Madison University

Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States

Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States

Nov
02
Conference Call @ WTJU RADIO(University of Virginia)

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Oct
31
Conference Call @ The Bop Shop

Rochester, New York, United States

Rochester, New York, United States

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Music

Press


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. - ~ by Mark Corroto - All About Jazz



Free jazz took root over 50 years ago in rebellion against the confines of traditional jazz formats. Now, as then, free jazz practitioners seek new forms of expression outside of common modalities. While recent popular music has undergone several insurgencies such as rock, rap and hip-hop, and has enjoyed the nostalgic reflections of Americana and roots music, in many ways jazz still leads a paradoxical existence, maintaining a strong tonal tradition on one hand and a desire for experimentation and deviation from convention on the other. Audiences still demand familiar standards and musicians enjoy playing them, but progressive musicians and audiences aspire to strain the boundaries or break them down completely. Some musicians have successfully split hairs and embraced both extremes, but currently there has been no evolutionary union of the two that would give birth to a wholly new and unique offspring. However, when the free jazz idiom is wielded with such authority and prowess as demonstrated by Gebhard Ullmann and Conference Call it seems clear that a transformation is underway.

In addition to Ullmann on tenor sax, soprano sax and bass clarinet, Conference Call is Michael Jefry Stevens on piano, Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums and percussion. Boundless exuberance and flawless technique have been essential to free jazz as other traditional gauges of quality are largely absent. But, in order to progress there has to be more, and there is more of “more” in Conference Call than in most free jazz ensembles. Cogent musical form anchors the composed pieces, with Ullman, Stevens, Fonda and Schuller all contributing works. Others pieces are group improvisations (“After Like” parts 1, 2 & 3 and “What About….?”) and the group functions so well as a unit that an organic form grows even in these spontaneous live improvs. What About….?, their sixth release, was recorded live in Krakow, Poland in April 2007 and consists of ten selections across two CDs.

“After Like” is a three part improvisation with parts 1 and 2 leading off the first CD and part 3 following on CD 2. Longevity is important for an improvisational group to allow them to develop the ability to anticipate each other’s maneuvers. Especially on the improvised pieces here the quartet demonstrates uncanny abilities in like-mindedness as they ebb and flow, reaching tempo changes, moments of silence and climaxes simultaneously. At times what seems like a familiar jazz quote jumps out at the listener whether by design or not, but very clearly on “After Like, part 2” is a repeated phrase from the well-known “Peter Gunn Theme.” “What About The Future,” a Stevens composition, is based around piano clusters and overtones from bowed bass and baritone clarinet. “Circle,” a Fonda piece, features Ullmann on soprano. “Conference Call,” by Ullmann, is built from a rising three-note theme and features creative percussion voicings by Schuller. The third part of “After Life” starts off the second CD and is a construct of repeating patterns, driven at times by a swing-like beat and walking bass. A blatantly obvious reference to traditional music follows with “Could This Be A Polka?” And, yes, it could, in the Conference Call sense. There are oom-pah elements that clearly define a polka, but a four note descending fragment instigated by piano and picked up by bass clarinet is the melodic structural feature. Rapid five-note runs in sax and piano and passed as a rattatat to the drums is the construct for “Litmus.” A softly rendered “Translucent Tones” is followed by the title track “What About….?” as the final track, where a conspicuously melodic swing theme is developed to dramatic conclusion.

Live free jazz recordings are often exclusively for hardened free jazz fans, but even a timid free jazz listener will find plenty to like on “What About….?.” If not, reaching a little deeper and taking another listen should do it. It’s difficult to envision a better exhibition of ability, creativity and group cohesiveness in the free jazz idiom.

Hot Tracks: What About The Future?, Conference Call, What About….?

- ~ Mike Reynolds-MuzikReviews.com Sr. Staff October 18, 2010 ©MuzikReviews.com



The specialist skills of the members of this quartet - together with a perceivable enthusiasm in the approach to the music - are relevant elements in this particularly elegant recording, which gathers musicians who - one way or another - have been working jointly for many years (especially pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda, whose artistic connection dates back to 1984). Saxophonist Gebhard Ullman performs on soprano and tenor, plus bass clarinet; both he and drummer/percussionist George Schuller are also frequent partners of Stevens. Each of the accomplices contributes with his own compositions, thus applying an iridescent lacquer to the record that is all the more conspicuous given the high standards of the instrumental level. The foursome are able to unchain themselves from straight behaviour when they wish to do so, pushing the boundaries of attitude well ahead of the canons of mainstream; it’s clearly observable, though, that their strongest asset is the ability of cuddling the listener across relatively placid seas, a rigorous pursuit of the graceful and the tasteful the fundamental objective through passages where delicacy and fervour find a point of compromise, leaving a door open to comprehensibility in the most elaborate fragments as well. The single voices shine throughout but, overall, this is a truly collective effort, the only actual deviations from the canon being a moaning-and-panting bass solo by Fonda where he seems to make love to the instrument (“Next Step”) and Schuller’s suggestive hammer whistle call ending the disc in “Desert… Bleue… East”. Fluently communicative and sophisticatedly instinctive, Stevens and Ullmann complete a superb combination, their coolness being the proof that jazz can still reach significant altitudes even when not furiously screaming and flaming from the nostrils.

- ~ By Massimo Ricci (Touching Extremes)



If the axis of this band – now commemorating its 10th year – is defined by two of its most complicit collaborators, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda, co-founders of the Fonda/Stevens Group, then the involvement of woodwind player Gebhard Ullmann and drummer George Schuller reinforces the universal idea of group interdependence. However, there’s still enough room for each to add their own unique concepts to an ever-evolving and most rewarding project. And what a project it is, in some ways tied to the late Sixties sound of the BYG free jazz records, while in other ways teetering on the edge of the vast unknown personified, for instance, by the recent developments of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. With original compositions offered by all four members and special attention paid to timbre and harmonic integration, there’s a certain bold affirmation about the music in “Poetry in Motion”
revealing a relaxed sense of purpose and musical fortitude. All four are active in both mainstream and avant-fields and all have notable CVs: Stevens’s toe-dipping classical constructions, Fonda’s open inventiveness (of course, stemming from his Anthony Braxton tutelage), Ullmann’s extended reed skills and Schuller’s knit-work craftsmanship – all combining to create music that swings outwardly, while at the same time, allows the listener to follow its inner abstractions. The liner notes of the CD speak of the joy, mystery and wonder felt by the performers during the recording sessions (their first studio recording in eight years), and we can surely recognize that essence. It’s a measure of true artistic accomplishment when music so demanding can touch an emotional thread, proving that even a street full of concrete and glass can turn green and lush. Poetry in motion, indeed.

- ~ All About Jazz by Troy Collins (August 2008)


Chris Kelsey

The ways of swing are many and varied, as demonstrated by this superb quartet of leftward-leaning jazz folk... this album reflects a band steeped in the history of small group jazz, while dedicated to exploring fresh possibilities.

The tone is set by the opener, Ullmann's "29 Shoes". The group pokes and probes disjointedly at a slight motive, before coalescing and transforming the phrase into a roiling, cooking Latinesque tour de force. Hemingway pulls the groove as far apart as humanly possible without breaking it into smithereens. All the while he maintains an extraordinary drive and interacts with his bandmates - Ullmann in particular - on the highest level. The tune morphs naturally into episodes of swing and free playing too ingenious to describe in such a short space...

The soloists are uniformly excellent, and the group dynamic is of the highest caliber. If you have any doubts at all that jazz is still a vital, evolving form, this should dispel them. - Jazz Times Magazine


If the axis of this band – now commemorating its 10th year – is defined by two of its most complicit collaborators, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda, co-founders of the Fonda/Stevens Group, then the involvement of woodwind player Gebhard Ullmann and drummer George Schuller reinforces the universal idea of group interdependence. However, there’s still enough room for each to add their own unique concepts to an ever-evolving and most rewarding project. And what a project it is, in some ways tied to the late Sixties sound of the BYG free jazz records, while in other ways teetering on the edge of the vast unknown personified, for instance, by the recent developments of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. With original compositions offered by all four members and special attention paid to timbre and harmonic integration, there’s a certain bold affirmation about the music in “Poetry in Motion”
revealing a relaxed sense of purpose and musical fortitude. All four are active in both mainstream and avant-fields and all have notable CVs: Stevens’s toe-dipping classical constructions, Fonda’s open inventiveness (of course, stemming from his Anthony Braxton tutelage), Ullmann’s extended reed skills and Schuller’s knit-work craftsmanship – all combining to create music that swings outwardly, while at the same time, allows the listener to follow its inner abstractions. The liner notes of the CD speak of the joy, mystery and wonder felt by the performers during the recording sessions (their first studio recording in eight years), and we can surely recognize that essence. It’s a measure of true artistic accomplishment when music so demanding can touch an emotional thread, proving that even a street full of concrete and glass can turn green and lush. Poetry in motion, indeed.
~ All About Jazz by Troy Collins (August 2008)

- Troy Collins (All About Jazz)


The specialist skills of the members of this quartet - together with a perceivable enthusiasm in the approach to the music - are relevant elements in this particularly elegant recording, which gathers musicians who - one way or another - have been working jointly for many years (especially pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda, whose artistic connection dates back to 1984). Saxophonist Gebhard Ullman performs on soprano and tenor, plus bass clarinet; both he and drummer/percussionist George Schuller are also frequent partners of Stevens. Each of the accomplices contributes with his own compositions, thus applying an iridescent lacquer to the record that is all the more conspicuous given the high standards of the instrumental level. The foursome are able to unchain themselves from straight behaviour when they wish to do so, pushing the boundaries of attitude well ahead of the canons of mainstream; it’s clearly observable, though, that their strongest asset is the ability of cuddling the listener across relatively placid seas, a rigorous pursuit of the graceful and the tasteful the fundamental objective through passages where delicacy and fervour find a point of compromise, leaving a door open to comprehensibility in the most elaborate fragments as well. The single voices shine throughout but, overall, this is a truly collective effort, the only actual deviations from the canon being a moaning-and-panting bass solo by Fonda where he seems to make love to the instrument (“Next Step”) and Schuller’s suggestive hammer whistle call ending the disc in “Desert… Bleue… East”. Fluently communicative and sophisticatedly instinctive, Stevens and Ullmann complete a superb combination, their coolness being the proof that jazz can still reach significant altitudes even when not furiously screaming and flaming from the nostrils.
~ By Massimo Ricci (Touching Extremes)

- Massimi Ricci (Touching Extremes)


The creation of a work of art is an act of the mind that controls and shapes the medium's components in order to project the artist's sense of life and elicit a reaction from the consumer. In its highest forms, jazz might sound instinctive, but the reality is that years of practice have pushed the physical into the background and honed the mind to work exceedingly fast. A player entering "the zone" has not stopped thinking, but has dissolved the boundary between mind and body.

Poetry In Motion, by the collective group Conference Call, deserves to be considered as one of the year's best for the simple reason that its balance of thought and emotion, structure and freedom, clarity and abandon, is exquisitely and transparently laid out. Regardless of who composed any particular tune, providing a distinctive voice, the group acts as an organic unit, with the total sound becoming more than the sum of its parts.

In the notes, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens relates how he met reedman Gebhard Ullmann ten years earlier, with the two deciding to form a group. Stevens brought in his long-time musical partner, bassist Joe Fonda of the Fonda/Stevens Group. The drum chair has changed over the years, but seems to have settled down with George Schuller, who appeared on Spirals. The Berlin Concert (482 Music, 2004).

Stevens goes on to say how this studio recording bookends three live albums with the group's first album, and how being one of four strong—and very different—composes and players creates "an extremely and exciting musical experience both on the bandstand and in the studio."

Of the album's seven tracks, each member contributes two, except for one by Schuller. The overall mood is one of dark mystery and beauty mixed with a bit of danger (and humor) supported by a pent-up, controlled power which can explode at any time. While each of the tunes has a different kind of architecture, the structure surrounding the freedom, along with its development, is very audible.

The music is so strong from the first pedal point notes and bass squeals of Ullmann's "The Shining Star," that the stage is set for high drama, creating its own reality. The excitement reaches a fever pitch with the central, and longest track by Fonda, ”Next Step," which begins with a driving rhythmic pattern on the drums that is picked up by Fonda. Ullmann enters on bass clarinet to play the eerie theme and the band is off. Toward the end, Fonda takes a vicious solo on which he can be heard grunting and vocalizing his lines—a truly inspiring track.

As he states in the notes, Stevens has every reason to be proud of Poetry In Motion. It is a triumph from any angle.

~ By Budd Kopman

- Budd Kopman


Conference Call is an inspired group. Period.
Gebhard Ullmann is one the most accomplished reed players on the scene today. Having made over twenty recordings, Ulmman continues to push his own envelope, along the way gaining more fans and admirers.
Michael Jefry Stevens is a breath of fresh air on the piano. Thoughful, provocative, and open to ideas, his presence in the group is unmistakable.
Following in the tradition of Dave Holland and Charlie Haden, it is hard to find a more focused master of his instrument than Joe Fonda. His ability to transform the bass into an instrument of feeling, and resilience is evidenced throughout.
Drumming in this kind of setting requires not only an excellent time keeper but also a skin tapper with imagination. Matt Wilson more than meets this requirement.
The quartet plays in the moment, totally in synch with one another, resulting in a recording full of surprises.
A blistering number entitled Dreierlei opens this session. With a quick inspired staccato opening featuring the band in unison. A brief lull gives way to a ferocious as well as a driven delivery from Ullmann. He weaves in and out of the melody with ease and conviction. After a driving attack, Fonda settles into a great bass solo, driving Wilson to offbeat rhythms and overall fun.
Stevens' march like piano, sets the pace for Final Answer. Always aware of his surroundings, Stevens remains in control throughout. Fonda has always worked well with Stevens, anticipating his every move. Wilson joins in with his own take on things. Ullmann's mastery of the bass clarinet is evidenced throughout. Shades of Dolphy? Great example of unison playing from the group.
Gone Too Soon, written by Fonda, is a moving tribute to Thomas Chapin who tragically passed away a few years ago. Chapin was an up and coming sax and flute player who held great potential. Ullmann's playing sounds like every note has a tear. An exemplary practitioner of the ballad, Ullmann pours his heart out. Sensitive accompaniment from Steven's as well as a haunting vocal recanting "Gone Too Soon".
A lovely arrangement from Stevens, Liquid Cage is dedicated to clarinetist, Mark Whitecage. Ullmann's rich and flowing sound from his bass clarinet adds a striking dimension. Wilson's cymbal work creates a framework for the expressiveness of the soul. Moving gently throughout, Steven's sparse finger work brings this piece home.
Conference Call is one of the most important ensembles on the scene today. Fun, ideas, and free flowing music are the trademarks of this successful unit. Final Answer is just one more example of what this group brings to the table.
~ Jazz Review - Randy McElligot (2002)

- Jazz Review - Randy McElligot


by Chris Kelsey | May 01 '04
Jazz Times Review of
Conference Call “Spirals: the Berlin Concert” on 482 Records
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I can't help but contrast the playing of Gebhard Ullmann on Spirals: The Berlin Concert (482) with that of Ivo Perelman. Like Perelman, Ullmann can walk the altissimo high wire, but he doesn't live up there. He knows when to come down. Conference Call is a cooperative consisting of the multireedist Ullmann, pianist Michael Jefrey Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller.

Ullmann's tenor work on the opener, Schuller's tune "Comeuppance," shows how there's more to free jazz than manic intensity; getting from note to note in a coherent manner can be just as important. Joe Fonda is one of the more clean-toned bassists around; his improvised introduction and subsequent solo on Ullmann's "Dreierlei" is attractively direct. His doubling of the melody with Ullmann on soprano sax is also very nicely done. Stevens plays with a rolling, tuneful momentum. Even his fleetest passages sing. Schuller is a graceful, swinging drummer, always tasteful and capable of driving a band without overwhelming it. Conference Call as a whole swings with a gleeful impetuosity that's hard if not impossible to dislike. Kinda sounds like what the late '60s Miles Davis band might have become had they stayed the course.
- Jazz Times


Conference Call
Cadence review
Jerome Wilson

[Spirals] is by a quartet that has stayed together long enough to put out several CDs and quietly make a reputation for itself, Conference Call. This is four excellent musicians-Gebhard Ullmann, Michael Jefry Stevens, Joe Fonda and George Schuller-coming together to do emotional and rhapsodic music that builds on the ecstatic jazz tradition of the Sixties. The first couple of pieces from this live concert have them mostly limbering up and doing slow screams in the post-”Ascension” manner, Fonda's bass so thick and guttural it sounds possessed. Then Stevens' composition, “Little Pete's Diner” comes along, a delirious, overthe- top tango with Ullmann slurping all over his saxophone and Stevens playing whacked out cabaret piano. It's almost like one of Willem Breuker's parody bits but with less slapstick and far more intensity. Then there's a short bit of political theater led by Fonda. (This was recorded right before the start of the Iraq war.) Next the group turns quiet and delicate for “Translucent Tones,” Stevens' twinkling piano leading the way before the concert closes out with a long, intricate drum solo and more frenetic rolling and tumbling on “No Hazmats.” I'm not sure how long these four have been playing together, but they definitely have learned each other's moves and know how to blend their individual voices into a cohesive sound. Conference Call is making some amazing music under everybody's radar.
- Cadence Magazine


steven loewy (allmusicguide, usa '04) about the cd 'variations on a master plan'

" even taking into account gebhard ullmann's outstanding discography, this is an extraordinary release due in large part to one of the most impressive rhythm sections on either side of the atlantic. ullmann rises to this occasion with some of his most inspired work on disc and when it is over the only question is: why isn't ullmann better known than he is ? his full sound on tenor sax resounds with the consistency of a thick chocolate shake ... this is a group that indulges in diversity, and one minute the mood maybe upbeat and fanciful, and the next morose and somber but there is no question that ullmann knows where he is going. he treats that fine line between playing chords and venturing out on a limb; a balancing act that he handles with finesse. 4 1/2 stars." - All Music Guide


If it’s possible to have a super-group in a musical form as marginalized as contemporary, creative, left-field jazz, then Conference Call is a pretty good contender. Bassist Joe Fonda has been playing with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens in the Fonda/Stevens Group for 20 years, as well as finding time to back Anthony Braxton; German reedsman Gebhard Ullmann is familiar face on the Leo label; and the band has operated something of a revolving drum-stool policy, bringing in big-hitters such as Matt Wilson, Han Bennink, and, more recently, George Schuller—though due to a scheduling conflict, the tour from which this Albuquerque, New Mexico performance is drawn features Gerry Hemingway behind the kit. From the get-go it’s clear Hemmingway’s keen to make an impression in his temporary role, storming into the opening number “29 Shoes” with a blistering, high-energy drum solo. In fact, this lengthy tune serves as something of a wake-up slap in the face, with all four musicians tearing it up in fine style: a hectic, disjointed head; dizzying, hard-swinging themes; frantic bass runs; Wayne Shorter-esque soprano acrobatics; prancing, chamber-jazz motifs; and playful drums that seem to be constantly trying to wrong-foot the breakneck vibe, only to fall back into line just when consistency’s needed. As showcases of virtuosity and audacity go, it’s a mightily impressive and enjoyable one—and one that marks this band out as a genuinely intelligent, restless, and searching unit that clearly deserves a wider audience. “Liquid Cage” is a more reflective affair, a limpid, watery sound-painting that features tumbling, waterfall piano, ghostly clouds of saxophone, and tactile, fingertip neck-work on the bass producing a kind of super-pizzicato effect like raindrops on an upturned bucket. The second half of the set finds an irrepressible groove breaking through, and Ullmann seems to pay homage to Archie Shepp’s late-60s tenor work, with those unmistakable, fractured blues honks riding over the top of a gently lilting piano and bass riff on “Circle Dance”, and even a hint of the mutant, stamping blues of Shepp’s “Black Gypsy” showing up on “Marla Dr’ôle”.
For pure, modal fun though, the closing number “As I Wait”, takes some beating: a catchy, ascending groove that pits dissolution against resolution, finding a joyful middle ground where chaotic drums flutter around the anchor of a soulful riff that somehow manages to feel both grounded and free. Conference Call, then, sounds like a band with one foot firmly in the Paris / Chicago axis of the late-60s BYG avant-garde sound and another keeping up to date with the tuneful, exploratory freedom of Wayne Shorter’s recent celebrated quartet. Ask yourself this: is there anything about that equation that doesn’t sound like a good thing?
~ Daniel Spicer, June 5, 2006 One Final Note

- Daniel Spicer - Final Note


Final Answer
Conference Call | Soul Note
By Frank Rubolino


Synergy is critical to the success of any band, yet Conference Call has developed the art of interaction into a fine science. Gebhard Ullmann, Michael Jefry Stevens, Joe Fonda, and Matt Wilson have been playing together for a number of years, which helps explain why their music congeals unerringly into a solidified whole. Everybody is a star soloist with this band, yet their combined output molds itself into a complete package braided together by group empathy.

All four musicians are also composers; the program contains at least two tunes by each. The music rides freely and easily on a crack train capable of veering off at reduced speed to alter the mood swings without interrupting the momentum. For example, things get hopping on Wilson?s ?Final Answer,? yet the band glides easily into a mournful, bluesy mood on ?Gone Too Soon,? Fonda?s dedication piece to Thomas Chapin. The performance provides frequent alterations in tempo, an occasional touch of humor, and a solid sense of unity.

Ullmann causes a river of sound to flow through either the soprano saxophone or the bass clarinet. His inspired improvisations are thoughtfully constructed without the need for overt outbursts, yet he cranks the action up several notches frequently in a subtle way before one realizes the fires are burning at higher temperature. The music simply oozes out in a continuous flood of logical phrases.

Fonda?s ambitious bass playing has contagious characteristics. He not only builds his extensive solos into definitive statements of the art form, he anticipates his next spontaneous expression and mouths the freelance part in accompaniment of himself. Wilson adds flavor and spice on drums. Without being obvious, he provides the impetus through his cushioned contributions to the group context.

Stevens pulls the band together with his piano support. He is not a percussive player, yet he demonstrates a take-charge attitude during his solo opportunities as well as when he is directing ensemble action with well-constructed countercurrents.

Like a fine watch, Conference Call runs at peak performance throughout the set. The four members come together as a tight unit capable of producing music with looseness and agility. They form a supple group that swings in free time.



- All About Jazz


Mark Corroto By MARK CORROTO
Published: February 24, 2014

Conference Call: Seven: Live @ Firehouse 12
The collective quartet Conference Call performs music within the egalitarian principles of jazz as a democracy, confirming that a band can be both leaderless and led by different players without diminishing the quality and character of its music.

A working band since 1998, the lineup of reed player Gebhard Ullmann, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, and bassist Joe Fonda employed multiple drummers in its first three years, including Matt Wilson, Han Bennink, and Gerry Hemingway before inviting George Schuller to hold down the drum chair. His selection speaks to the chemistry of this band, and its true collective nature.

Seven: Live @ Firehouse 12 is their seventh release, fifth in this current lineup and it follows What About The...???? (Not Two, 2010) (also a live recording) and the studio release Poetry In motion (Clean Feed, 2008).

The amazing feature of this band might not be that they interact so well, but that they actually have time (make time) to play together. Each player leads multiple bands and is a member of various ensembles. Among others projects, Ullman leads his Clarinet Trio, the Ullmann/Swell 4, and Tá Lam Acht. Fonda can be heard in 18 different bands and Barry Altschul's The 3dom Factor (TUM, 2013) made many a top ten list last year. Stevens juggles 15 different bands, with the longstanding Michael Jefry Stevens Trio a favorite. Likewise Schuller is the choice drummer for Michael Musillami and Jason Robinson.

Seven was taken from the September 26, 2008, performance and it is presented here unedited and uninterrupted, each set comprising one disc. What is unique here is the manner in which the music making is passed around; not the typical head-solo- head arrangements, but composed changes and neatly orchestrated improvisation. Stevens trinkling/tinkling piano opens "Poetry In Motion" before Ullman's bass clarinet enters in unison and the band goes about unfurling intricate patterns that detonate into improvisation. The band, though, maintains the song's structure bringing the audience back from the brink. The same is true for all the music here. Highlights include "29 Shoes" with its extended technique opening that coagulates into a burning run (check out Fonda's nimble fingers), the Ornette Coleman-inspired "A Map Would Help," a clever chamber jazz piece "Quirky Waltz," and "Desert... Bleue... East..." a melancholy blues." Each varied track is a mini-exercise in group interaction and the power a disciplined improvisation that complements the composed music. - All About Jazz


Discography

Final Answer (Soul Note Records) 2002
Variations on a Master Plan (Leo Records) 2003
Spirals: The Berlin Concert (482 Music) 2004
Live at the Outpost Performance Space (482 Music) 2006
Poetry in Motion (Clean Feed Records) 2009
What About (Nottwo Records) 2010
Seven "Live at Firehouse 12" (Nottwo Records) 2014

Photos

Bio

The quartet was formed in 1998 and features original music from each member of the group utilizing 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 Dieter Ulrich; 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 and the Cayolle/Stevens Band featuring New Orleans horn man Brian "Breeze" Cayolle.  He has released over 80 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-renowned 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 "T 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 Lande andHamid Drake.

Dieter Ulrich (Percussion/Composer) joined the quartet in 2015. Dieter Ulrich is a Swiss jazz and improvisation musician and art historian. Zurich born and raised. Piano trained. Plays drums since 1972 and is self-taught. Since 1975 he has played with Harald Haerter, Kurt Grämiger, Nathanael Su, Urs Blöchlinger, Werner Lüdi, Hans Koch, Bob Mover, Trevor Watts, Urs Voerkel, Co Streiff, Vinny Golia, Alfred Zimmerlin, Claudia Ulla Binder, Tom Varner, Jacques Siron, Christoph Baumann, Dave Taylor, Jürg Solothurnmann, Glenn Ferris, Luten Petrofsky, Sri.N.S. Krishna Murthy, Dr. L. Subramanian and others. Ulrich has also collaborated on the following multi-media projects with Daniel Mouthon; "Wasteland" 1986, "Finnabout" 1991, "air à l'en verre" an opera project for the Theaterhaus Gessnerallee in Zürich 1997.  Dieter is one of the most sought after Swiss improvising musicians and composers.  A sampling of his large discography include:

Urs Blöchlinger: Neurotica (Hathut Records, 1984); Werner Lüdi: Serendipity (Creative Works Records, 1987); Day & Taxi All (Percaso, 1991); Nat Su: At Ellington (Jecklin, 1998);Truss Zimmerlin-Ulrich: Out of a Suitcase (MGB, 1998); Cheaper Bauer: The Silence behind Each Cry (Intakt Records, 2001; Friedli-Streiff-Schlegel-Ulrich: objets trouvés. Fragile (Intact, 2005) and many others.


Band Members