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A Melange of Jazz at Composers and Improvisers Festival

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Gebhard Ullmann It had all the makings of a great musical event: virtuosity, passion, humor, drama and social commentary. All that was missing was a decent turnout at Saturday's Composers and Improvisers Festival in Middletown.

The couple of dozen who did make it to the Oddfellows Playhouse were rewarded with nearly four hours of diverse and daring jazz-oriented explorations from four distinct creative sources.

Joe Fonda, festival director and onetime Middletown resident, performed with Conference Call, a collaborative quartet that brought the evening to a rousing conclusion with its intense interactions. The 53-year-old bassist now resides in New York, where he happily defies musical convention in an wide array of sonic settings.

Conference Call spokesman Michael Jefry Stevens worked magic on a beat-up piano at the playhouse; German multi-reedist Gebhard Ullman blew hot and cold firestorms of sound; drummer George Schuller provided the percussive grounding from which his band mates sprang into action.

Most of the quartet's set featured compositions from its new Clean Feed release, “Poetry in Motion." “The Shining Star," written by Ullman, typified the group's inside/outside improvisational approach. It began with Fonda's frantically bowing his bass over a steady drumbeat and piano drone. The composer entered on tenor saxophone, offering a solemn melody that he gradually built upon with increasingly majestic variations.


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