Variations On A Master Plan - review by Bruce Lee Gallanter
Bruce Lee Gallanter for Downtown Music Gallery
This was recorded live in Munich in March of 2001 and has superb sound. I recall Gebhard from a fine cd on Soul Note [Bruce thinks of Final Answer with Matt Wilson on drums.] from a while ago, as well as another half dozen releases out on Nabel and Between the Lines. Stevens and Fonda have been playing together in different bands for about two decades and have numerous releases out on Leo. Conference Call is the band or project name and the aforementioned Soul Note cd was that band with a different drummer, now replaced by that wacky Dutch dynamo, Han Bennink from ICP. Everyone contributes one or two pieces but Han plus they do cover by Nina Rota and one group improv as well. Michael's "Quiet" opens with an exquisite melody and enchanting bass clarinet. Han plays incredibly well, both swinging intensely one moment and playing magically around the pulse simultaneously. Soon the rambunctious piano and drums take off together for the stratosphere with Mr. Fonda also walking furiously at the center and then taking an incredibly crafty bass solo, with also working closely and both players shining together. Fonda's "Circle" is a haunting, somber piece for smoky bass clarinet and delicate accompaniment, with Han also buzzing beautifully around the enchanting piano, eventually working its way through "Variations on a Theme by Debussy", another long and winding work which moves through hills and valleys and takes us along for a great ride. "Improvisation No. 2" shows what this grand quartet does best, by spinning a web of connected spirits which fly, sail, jump and erupt together as one great force/quartet. Concluding with Joe Fonda's "Song for My Mother" which is a perfect closing piece with a transcendent gospelish theme and Han once again providing that marvelous swirling mass of spiritual energy.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2006 Downtown Music Gallery and Bruce Lee Gallanter.