Conference Call – Poetry In Motion (CF 118)
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.