Variations On A Master Plan - review by Nate Dorward
Nate Dorward for Cadence, published September 2003
Conference Call is a regular quartet project featuring reedsman Ullmann and the well-attested Fonda/Stevens axis, with a rotating drum chair filled in the past by George Schuller or Matt Wilson but on this occasion occupied by the irrepressible Han Bennink. Hard to believe that any album with Bennink on it could start off with a track called "Quiet": Bennink gives Stevens' stately melody a slightly improbable though by no means disruptive accompaniment; but it's no surprise when the track intensifies into a fastpaced modal blow. The stylistic differences between the players work better than they ought to by right: "Circle", for instance, is a friendly battle between Ullmann's muscular postbop tenor and Bennink's racing drums (often with a flavour recalling the swing era): neither man gives the other quarter or drops out even as the bassist and pianist enter and depart. I've no idea what Debussy piece lies behind "Variations on a Theme by Claude Debussy"; the piece's sound-world in fact suggests John Surman's work with Paul Bley or John Taylor (there's the same churchy homophony you sometimes find on their recordings), though Bennink remains unmistakably Bennink, of course. A collective improvisation and two brief lyrical interludes, including a cover of Nino Rota's "Parlami di me" from La Dolce Vita, round off an enjoyable CD. I've no idea what the "master plan" of the title is, but it somehow seems appropriate that the cover shows a best-scores display from the old arcade game Centipede.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2006 Nate Dorward.