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Full Focus

Gebhard Ullmann

Tá Lam




The idea behind our Full Focus series is to let the reader listen to a track from an album at the same time as reading the concepts behind the track as seen by the composer and the musicians involved.

Born in 1957 in Bad Godesberg, Germany, multi-instrumentalist and composer Gebhard Ullmann studied medicine and music in Hamburg and moved to Berlin in 1983. Since then he has recorded more than 50 albums as a leader or co-leader for prestigious labels such as Soul Note (Italy), Leo Records (UK), Between The Lines (Germany), CIMP (USA), NotTwo Records (Poland), Clean Gebhard Ullmann Ta LamFeed (Portugal) Unit Records (Switzerland) and others.

He is considered to be one of the leading personalities in both the Berlin and international music scenes and has received numerous awards for his work including the Julius Hemphill Composition Award in two categories ('99), the Deutsche Phonoakademie award ('83), one of the first SWF Jazz Awards ('87) and the nomination best-jazz-CD-of-the-year by the German Schallplattenkritik for his CD Tá Lam in 1995.

If you put Tá Lam into Google Translate looking for a meaning, you won't get very far. Translate suggests that the words are Vietnamese, but Gebhard Ullmann says: 'No, Tá Lam has been a sound, words that seemed to fit both the painting and the music or vice versa, and since it was the title of an original long composition and the first CD with this music it seemed to be a good idea to use it as the name for the project as well.'


Gebhard talks about Tá Lam:


When I started as a professional musician in Berlin in 1983 I was not sure if I would be able to live on music and so I tried to play with as many woodwinds as possible to create work.  In Berlin, it didn’t take long and I would play in about a dozen bands with concerts almost every other day plus studio work, work in theatres etc. 

Starting from the mid 80s I concentrated on overdubbing woodwind arrangements with up to how many instruments anybody would ask for and use these abilities for my own music as well. I performed in those days on instruments ranging from piccolo to bass flute, soprano to tenor sax, clarinet and later bass clarinet. 9 instruments total!

Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio


Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio.

Gebhard Ullmann, Michael Thieke, Jürgen Kupke
Photo: Daniel Sheehan


Of course I did have my favourites but I wanted to create a certain result by doing this - pretty vague in my mind - and looking back, this resulted in the Tá Lam recording. After doing this recording I scaled down significantly and concentrated on what are now my main instruments.



In 1991 I got the offer to use the beautiful old chamber music studio at the radio in Berlin (built in the early 20th century). All wood, one huge hall with very high ceilings - incredible. I got the offer to use it for, if I remember correctly, 2 weeks. I came in and started with bass flute or bass clarinet - sometimes with a click, sometimes without - and longggggg scores. I needed several music stands. I built up all the voices that you hear, no post production, editing, electronics or such. All acoustic, all played live. 

The piece Tá Lam itself is based on a series of 12 notes in half time in the bass with a 9/4 melody in double time on top plus a rhythm line in 3/4 (double time) in the middle. You get the idea. 

Starting from this I go through all kinds of variations during the arrangement. While most of the thematic material is written I sometimes improvised lines inside the melodic material.


Listen to Tá Lam





When I was done with everything I listened to some bass clarinet sections and thought this sounds like an accordion! So I invited the incredible accordionist Hans Hassler from Switzerland to play on top, inside, below, everything. Hans is a good friend of mine and we Gebhard Ullmannmet at the European Radio Jazz Orchestra. I gave him parts to play, told him to improvise on top of certain lines - we went crazy for a day or two.

The recording was released on a small Berlin based label the owner being a real record lover. Now - he went crazy with the CD cover. A digipack that unfolds 4 times to all sides using a painting from my wife that unfolds inside like a puzzle depending on how many parts you unfold. I asked Dave Liebman to write the liner notes, Bob Moses came up with a poem on the music - everybody was very helpful and enthusiastic and I would like to thank them for all their support.


Gebhard Ullmann


The band Tá Lam that came out of this production lasted for 21 years and went through many stages. It started as a 6-piece, later 8, 10 and finally 11-piece. We toured all over the world played an enormous number of concerts, put out 3 more CDs and finally it was time to let it go in 2014. It wouldn’t have worked without the dedication of all the incredible musicians who played permanently or at various times in the Tá Lam ensemble.

As a last statement I would like to mention when I recorded the piece Tá Lam I was not sure if this would work musically, completely new ground in many ways. Even more I would have never thought that this music would or could be performed live - and it has been - for 21 years. What an incredible journey!



Check out Gebhard Ullmann and the band Tá Lam 10 playing Charles Mingus's Fables Of Faubus.




Click here for details and to sample the album Tá Lam.

Since 2005 Gebhard Ullmann has been listed in the Downbeat Critics Poll and in 2015 for the first time in three categories. His CDs Final Answer (2002) The Bigband Project (2004) New Basement Research (2008) News? No News! (2010) Mingus! (2011) Clarinet Trio 4 (2012) were all listed in Downbeat Magazine among the best CDs of those years. The CD Transatlantic received the Choc award fromthe French Jazz Magazine in 2012. He has toured with his music throughout Europe as well as Africa, the Middle East, Canada, New Zealand, the USA, South East Asia, Mexico and China and performed at many of the world's top jazz festivals.

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2016

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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Alan Benzie Trio - Sunken Ruins
Henry Spencer and Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change
Marton Juhasz - Little Prayer

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