Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ben Goldberg School Makes its Recording Debut

Anyone who visits his Wikipedia page will discover that clarinetist Ben Goldberg has an ongoing interest in playing with different groups, many of his own formation. In January of 2012, one of those groups, called the Ben Goldberg School, gathered at Cressman Studios for its first recording sessions. “Cressman” is Jeff Cressman, who also played trombone in the group, along with Kasey Knudsen on alto saxophone, Rob Reich on accordion, David Ewell on bass, and Hamir Atwal on drums.

Chronologically, this preceded Goldberg’s work on Orphic Machine, a ten-movement song cycle that was first performed at the New Frequencies Fest in San Francisco in February of 2015, followed shortly thereafter by a release of the CD recording. At least two of those movements seem to have evolved out of the seven tracks recorded at Cressman Studios, “The Inferential Poem” and the instrumental “Bongoloid Lens.” About two weeks ago the CD of those seven tracks was released under the title Vol. 1: The Humanities, currently available for purchase through the Store Web page on Goldberg’s Web site:

from Ben Goldberg's Web site

Little by way of background has been provided for this recording, suggesting that even his choice of the group’s name may have been a prankish reflection on his earliest clarinet lessons. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in both the sonorities and the breadth of stylistic approaches that comfortably bridge the domains of chamber music and jazz. Indeed, the opening selection, which runs to almost eighteen minutes, amounts to a suite, although not necessarily in the pre-Classical tradition of an assembly of dances. The opening movement of this suite begins with an impeccably blended trio for clarinet, saxophone, and trombone that has an almost folk-like quality. That “folk rhetoric” is then reinforced with the entry of the accordion, rather than a piano, as one of the rhythm instruments.

The title of that suite is “Time Is The New Space,” suggesting that the title of the album refers to the sorts of encounters one has (or, perhaps, used to have) as part of the “core curriculum requirements” for college undergraduate studies. The other relatively long piece (about ten and one-half minutes) also has a title with similar “academic connotations.” The noun “lagniappe” is a linguistic hybrid concocted by Louisiana French drawing upon Quechua and the Spanish Creoles. It refers to those good old days when a buyer dealt with a seller face-to-face; and, if the relationship was a good one, the seller might add “a little something extra” at no charge to the buyer. Curiously, these two longish pieces are separated by the one track that is an arrangement, rather than an original composition, a five-minute take on Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer.”

The remaining tracks on the album are comparatively short. This recalls Cecil Taylor’s approach to many of his solo concerts, beginning with one extended continuous piece (often going through a variety of different phases in the sort of “suite” structure encountered in “Time Is The New Space”), followed by a series of much shorter works. For Goldberg, as for Taylor, the initial lengthy sections basically lay out the landscape of approaches to harmony, counterpoint, sonorities, and overall rhetoric. Once that landscape has been established, the listener is then invited to return to specific regions, so to speak, for a more “informed” visit.

The advantage of a recording is that it allows the attentive listener to get to know that landscape better; and Vol. 1: The Humanities is definitely music for such listening, rather than plugging into a portable device to become part of one’s “daily soundtrack.” As with any good jazz recording, these are tracks that reveal new features to the listener with memories of previous listenings. After all, if one does not come away from a subsequent listening experience with some new insight, why bother having the recording as a resource in the first place?

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