Ullmann/Swell's The Chicago Plan

Celebrating over ten years of collaborating together, Berlin saxophonist/composer, Gebhard Ullmann and NYC trombonist/composer Steve Swell join two of Chicago's finest improvising musicians; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello/electronics and percussionist Michael Zerang for this new configuration. Building on the strength and ideals of those three cities the quartet creates enough fireworks to light up the night sky with their brilliant sound imagery. Ullmann/Swell's Chicago Plan thoroughly breaks new ground for what Jazz and New Music ensembles' approach to what creative music should be.

 

Born on November 2, 1957 in Bad Godesberg, Germany, saxophonist (tenor and soprano), bass clarinetist, bass flutist and composer Gebhard Ullmann studied medicine and music in Hamburg, before moving to Berlin in 1983. Since then he has recorded more than 50 CDs as a leader or co-leader. Since 1993 Ullmann has been living in New York City and Berlin. He has toured globally and performs at jazz festivals worldwide. Ullmann's working bands are, amongst many more, Basement Research (with Steve Swell, Julian Argüelles, Pascal Niggenkemper, Gerald Cleaver), the Clarinet Trio (with Jürgen Kupke and Michael Thieke), and a new Duo with singer Almut Kühne. Since the mid 90's Ullmann had a teaching assignment for saxophone and ensemble at the University of Music Hanns Eisler in Berlin. In 2014 he was elected head of the German Jazz Musicians' Union.

Steve Swell, born in Newark, New Jersey, has been living, working and performing in New York City his entire adult life. He toured and recorded with, amongst many others, such diverse jazz personalities as Lionel Hampton and Anthony Braxton. Swell has 40 recordings as a leader or co-leader and is a featured artist on more than 100 other releases. Steve is well known for his many collaborations with Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, et al. and his many projects including The Ullmann/Swell 4tet featuring Barry Altschul and “Fire Into Music with Hamid Drake and his large ensemble, Nation Of We. Steve is a Teaching Artist in the NYC public school system working with special needs children and was awarded the 2008 Jubilation Foundation Fellowship Award of the Tides Foundation for recognition of that work.

Fred Lonberg-Holm (BS Brooklyn College, MA Mills College) studied composition with Morton Feldman, Anthony Braxton, Pauline Oliveros, Bunita Marcus and Noah Creshevsky and cello with Orlando Cole and Ardyth Alton. He currently lives in Chicago where he works with a wide variety of musicians in as many situations as possible. Current and ongoing projects include Joe McPhee’s Survival Unit III (w/ Michael Zerang), Seval, The Valentine Trio, The Boxhead Ensemble, The Fast Citizen’s, Ballister as well as numerous one off projects. He has appeared in numerous festivals on several continents where he has worked with Clare Cooper, Charlotte Hug, Andrea Neumann, Sofia Jernberg, Shelly Hirsch, Carrie Shull, Carrie Biolo, Birgitte Uhler, Rachel Wadham, Mary Halvorson, Joelle Leandre, Joanne Powers, Zeena Parkins, Judy Dunaway, Lotte Anker, as well as a number of guys. He also leads a revolving cast large ensemble under the name Lightbox Orchestra. His extensive discography includes free improvised and free jazz recordings as well as new music, pop, rock and noise. In addition to composing and performing he has made a number of sound installations including recently at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Joymore and Geschiedle Gallery.

Michael Zerang was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1958, and is a first-generation American of Assyrian decent. He is a practicing musician, composer, activist, and producer since 1976, focusing extensively on improvised music, free jazz, contemporary composition, puppet- and experimental theater, and world musical forms. As a percussionist and composer, Michael has over ninety titles in his discography and has toured nationally and internationally to 34 countries since 1981. He works with and ever-widening pool of collaborators in many disciplines, including regularly with Hamid Drake, Blair Thomas, Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Jim Baker, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Kent Kessler, Axel Dörner, Johaness Bauer, Mars Williams, Clayton Thomas, Magda Mayas, Jean Luc Guillonet, Kathleen Baird & Taralie Peterson. As an arts activist, Michael founded and was the artistic director of the Link's Hall Performance Series in Chicago from 1985-1989 where he produced hundreds of concerts of jazz, traditional ethnic folk music, electronic music, and other forms of forward thinking music. Michael was a Board Member of Links Hall from 1989 - 2013. He continued to produce concerts at Cafe Urbus Orbis from 1994-1996, and at his own space, The Candlestick Maker in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.

Current tour dates

Feb 1, 2018 - Feb 17, 2018
Also available on request!

BOOKING ENQUIRIES

Contact us if you want to offer a date for this tour, and we will advise you on availability.


Ullmann/Swell 4
The Chicago Plan (Clean Feed)

More than 10 years of partnership between American trombonist, composer Steve Swell and German tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist and composer Gebhard Ullmann after their successful first collaboration, The Ullmann/Swell Quartet featuring bassist Hill Greene and drum legend Barry Altschul continues now with a new version of the quartet featuring renowned Chicagoans, Michael Zerang, drums, percussion and Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello. This ensemble is appropriately named The Chicago Plan. The plan of course is to integrate the leaders’ fresh written material to inspire and be in the service of groundbreaking areas of improvisation that include world rhythms, universal textures and other worldly sound experiences.

All the accumulated experience of the members of The Chicago Plan forge a personal approach and vocabulary that is as natural as it is exhilarating. Their collective approach is loose and cool and is constantly full of life. That’s a good plan for any band whether the band is from Chicago or New York (Swell’s home), or Berlin (Ullmann’s home) or any other city in the world for that matter.


The Chicago Plan is an exciting new project that brings together longtime creative partners Steve Swell on trombone and Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and matches them with Windy City stalwarts Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Michael Zerang on drums. The results are very positive, with brawny modern jazz being combined with an experimental tinge culminating in excellent results.

The album begins with “Variations on a Master Plan, Pt. 3” with brisk playing from the horns on the frontline, and solid cello and drums underneath. The music is brawny and focused, opening up space for a saxophone and trombone dialogue, before stronger drums and bowed cello reenter the picture and have their own moment in the sun, then developing a fine full band collective improvisation.

The massive eighteen minute edifice of “Composite #10” begins with a very impressive open ended percussion solo, which develops a wide range of rhythmic possibilities. The music then unfolds like in a suite like fashion, with the horns and cello barrelling in forcefully, making for an exciting and slashing improvised section for the whole group. Sawing cello and saxophone duel in a stark and unadorned manner, then lead the music to a more subtle and abstract arena.

The music boldly moves between abstraction and full throated improvisation, weaving the threads together seamlessly. “Rule #1 Make Sure You Can Play Your Own Tune” comes out hard with a beefy theme that the musicians then develop variations upon, with rough, tough horns muscling through strident drums and cello. Ullman breaks free for an exciting saxophone solo aided by fast paced drums and cello, which take the deep structure of the music and pull it together. Swell then steps forward for a fine feature of his own, followed by a raw and scouring cello section, before everyone comes together to power forward to the conclusion.

This is exciting modern jazz that stretches across broad swaths of improvised music, it is strong, and occasionally abstract but ultimately riveting. The music makes for a set of challenging musical sensibilities but remains accessible to the listener, and make one hope that this is the first of many albums from this excellent band. — Tim Niland, Music and More


The Chicago Plan equates to a strategic plan, evidenced by these magnetic and invigorating works by reedman Gebhard Ullmann (Berlin), trombonist Steve Swell (New York City) and Chicagoans, drummer Michael Zerang and cellist / electronics-ace Fred Lonberg-Holm. Recorded in Chicago, the musicians were seemingly immersed in the Windy City's cutting- edge jazz and improvisational forces that may have hovered over the studio like a guiding spirit.

Here, some of the best and brightest live up to, or perhaps exceed expectations on this multifaceted set that offers a contrasting track list. They gel to an edgy and quasi-experimental New Orleans tinted bump and grind on the broadly based opener "Variations On A Master Plan (Part 3)." And kick off "Composite 10" with Zerang's poetic, polytonal drum vamp, leading to the hornists' diametric phrasings, densely articulated conversations and emotive solo spots. But the plot thickens on "Rule #1: Make Sure You Can Play Your Own Tune," which is designed with a complex and regimented unison free-bop pattern that is instigated by the drummer's fierce support and heightened by Swell and Ullmann's fluid solos. Hence, the quartet delves into scorching cadenzas amid a few nicely placed lulls, etched out by Lonberg-Holm's angular arco notes.

The final piece "For Henry," progresses like a fractured dirge, yet weirdly lyrical and capped off by Swell's bluesy, barrelhouse lines and Ullmann's loping bass clarinet notes, where Zerang's rolling fills generate an expansive musical canvass. Other movements interspersed throughout the program are framed with hair-raising free-form sorties and a labyrinth of dips and spikes via an undulating current and the ever-present element of surprise. Thus, all the nuts, bolts and moving parts converge into a near-flawless outcome. — Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz


Whenever American trombonist Steve Swell and German saxophonist/clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann get together for a new album or performance, one can expect pure energy within the creditable expeditions into the avant-garde/free territory. Assuring a diversity of attractive sounds, the moods adopted can rapidly shift from boisterous to reflective. 

Their first recording together, as Ullmann-Swell Quartet, goes back to 2005 with Desert Songs And Other Landscapes (CIMP), proceeding in 2008 with Live in Montreal (City Hall), and again two years later with News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt) In all three, they relied on a go-ahead rhythmic foundation laid down by bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Barry Altschul. 

In their new album, a celebration of a decade of friendship and musicianship, they resolved to expand their concept of sound and rhythm through approaches that lead to new possibilities. To achieve this, they renew the rhythm section by calling two skilled instrumentalists from Chicago, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, who is also in charge of electronics, and drummer Michael Zerang. The album/project gets the understandable title of The Chicago Plan

Ullmann contributes with four compositions, including two parts of his magnificent suite “Variations on a Master Plan” whose Pt.3 fires up the recording. Making its way through an inebriating groove, this tune works as an irresistible invitation for what comes next. The reeds, always cheek by jowl, move in a zealous spiral whether playing untied polyphonies, uncanny unisons, or strolling with no accompaniment. Joy is all around even when Lonberg-Holm brings a slice of solemnity with his cello movements. 

If Pt.3 is a sunny day, Pt.2 is a quiet night. The band generates a yearning chamber music that surrounds us with soberer tones.  Swell’s 18-minute “Composite #10” oozes energy from everywhere and brings Anthony Braxton into mind, not only because of its title but also due to its structure and musical force. The first five minutes are filled with thoughtful spanks, bonks, and chomps of Zerang’s stiff-less drumming. He was just making room for the pugnacious and highly-rhythmic altercation that arrives next, where Swell and Ullmann expel brisk phrases that sometimes match, sometimes diverge. The band reserves a section for the apocalyptic white noise produced by Lonberg-Holm’s electronics. 

Packed with excruciating musical venom, “Rule #1” accentuates the quartet’s impeccable sense of tempo. The reedists show off the virile and unorthodox avant-jazz jargon, having Zerang’s punchy rhythms in the background. The electrifying drummer shines once again in “Déjà Vu”, a more restrained tune devised with bouncy folk melodies, cacophonic murmurs, and precious silences. 

These four staunch improvisers know how to make us alert, working the dynamics and textures with an impressive gusto. It might take a few years for the Ullmann-Swell Quartet reunite again, but until there, we have the creditable The Chicago Plan to rack our brains out.

Here now was jazz energy. Here was meticulous virtuosity. Here was wild, driving rhythm and horns in a front-line part. Stopping on a dime, returning to the previous mood. Finding a way to end. The ebb and flow of formal composition and instantaneous improvisation is what makes this approach to music making so exciting.Lazaro Vega, Jazz Director, Blue Lake Radio


This is exciting modern jazz that stretches across broad swaths of improvised music, it is strong, and occasionally abstract but ultimately riveting. The music makes for a set of challenging musical sensibilities but remains accessible to the listener, and make one hope that this is the first of many albums from this excellent band. Tim Niland, Music and More


Other movements interspersed throughout the program are framed with hair-raising free-form sorties and a labyrinth of dips and spikes via an undulating current and the ever-present element of surprise. Thus, all the nuts, bolts and moving parts converge into a near-flawless outcome. All About Jazz


Swell and Ullmann’s protean expressionism, coupled with Longberg-Holm’s bold electro-acoustic palette and Zerang’s kaleidoscopic percussion yield a multi-hued range of colors on The Chicago Plan, demonstrating the limitless stylistic diversity of these global improvisers.Point of Departure


What makes his writing and playing so successful is his seemingly never-ending innovative nature: without grasping for neoteric straws Ullmann's performances are grounded in the tradition but plunge forward deliberately toward modernity.Cadence Magazine


Packed with excruciating musical venom, “Rule #1” accentuates the quartet’s impeccable sense of tempo. The reedists show off the virile and unorthodox avant-jazz jargon, having Zerang’s punchy rhythms in the background. The electrifying drummer shines once again in “Déjà Vu”, a more restrained tune devised with bouncy folk melodies, cacophonic murmurs, and precious silences.  These four staunch improvisers know how to make us alert, working the dynamics and textures with an impressive gusto.Jazztrail


Some of the best and brightest live up to, or perhaps exceed expectations on this multifaceted set that offers a contrasting track list. All About Jazz
Ullmann has what critic Bill Shoemaker has called a 'razor-sharp diction' but he's also fluent in the smeary, loose-fitting phraseology that distinguishes the last quarter century of American reed work. He knows when to pull which tool out of the chest, and he uses the many devices at his disposal as means to an end, shaping his improvisations like a sculptor.Neil Tesser, Chicago Reader

...we’re ever so lucky to have friends like Steve Swell, who plays the damn thing as if that was the last day of his life, injecting the music with huge soul, gravitational pulls towards the right energy channels and astounding technical wizardry. Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
 

Steve Swell: 5049 Podcast, Episode 96

— Episode 95 by Jeremiah Cymerman, December 2016
 

Steve Swell: Unlimited Musical Possibilities

— All About Jazz Interview by Vic Schermer, July 2014
 

Gebhard Ullmann: Wechsel an der Spitze

JazzZeitung Interview, Februar 2014
 

Michael Zerang: Harvesting Energies

— Gapers Block Article by Chris Sienko, September 2010

 

Tags: Ullmann/Swell's The Chicago Plan, Gebhard Ullmann, Steve Swell, Fred Longberg-Holm, Michael Zerang
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Feb 08, 2017  |  Share:          

"The Chicago Plan," Out Now on Clean Feed!

More than 10 years of partnership between American trombonist, composer Steve Swell and German tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist and composer Gebhard Ullmann after their successful first collaboration, The Ullmann/Swell Quartet featuring bassist Hill Greene and drum legend Barry Altschul continues now with a new version of the quartet featuring renowned Chicagoans, Michael Zerang, drums, percussion and Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello. Read more..

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Photo by Oli Potratz

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