Ben Goldberg: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact
Tenderness and meditative beauty, from the legit chamber music fringe of jazz.
The line-up of clarinet, tenor saxophone, violin, bass, and drums might even suggest Klezmer, but after the opening European chamber music of "Petals" (not quite a hundred seconds long), the second track "Song and Dance" strikes me as very much out of the Steve Lacy bag. I'm especially reminded of a particular Lacy concert that pianist Bobby Few couldn't make. This was even before I'd noticed that The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact was created in dedication to Lacy, the late and much missed soprano master.
Here, rather than Steve Potts launching forth on alto into something the leader would use to build his solo, Rob Sudduth's soft-toned tenor warms things into a glow and Ben Goldberg's clarinet lights up. Carla Kihlstedt reaches an apogee of grace on not especially jazzy violin, before some group counterpoint. A little different sort of 'song and dance,' but captivating.
Devin Hoff's bass leads off "Long Last Moment" with a very distinctive solo bass line, and then suddenly but gently the other three melody instruments are playing lines over Hoff's ostinato accompaniment: this turns into something like a very slow tenor solo with contrapuntal lines and filigree from clarinet and violin. The melody trio open "F13" without the bass, noodling, just the three of them playing free and with the same attention to mood as the violinist pays in playing and singing a vocalise on the theme of "Facts" before Goldberg adds the voice of his clarinet.
The five minutes of "Blinks" opens with melodic fragments from each of the players, the drum figures developing into something more sustained, drum-rolls, as the bassist builds a line. The climax is a galumphing repetitive figure like a Lacy group theme, but without the jazz improvisation Lacy commonly developed such themes into. This music isn't about going anywhere.
These players like the sounds of their instruments, which isn't unreasonable, and intelligently they go on from "Blinks" to the much less minimalist "I Before E Before I", with a strong bass figure, and some tom-tom in the drum accompaniment to a sensitive clarinet solo. It goes into another repetitive ensemble figure like a Lacy theme, before bass and drum take the performance out. "Learned from Susan Stewart" again demonstrates considerable feel for texture and instrumental blend, prior to a bass solo, and more playing with fragments.
On "MF", Goldberg opens on clarinet with Ches Smith's drums, soon joined by the bassist, the latter pair developing a stronger rhythmic profile. The second track called "Facts" opens with all four intoning the theme, or harmonies, this time as prelude to an interlude with the drummer using brushes, and some beatifully played harmonies by the others over shifting drum patterns. They can produce some very beautiful sounds.
"Dog's Life" opens with solo violin, and the clarinet joins in, in unison, Sudduth solos, with a rhythm starting up in the bass and drums, until there's something more like a jazz solo, slow and quiet. Goldberg adds a second line, and there's more gentle interplay, with the violin. "Lone" is a lovely little thing, a minute and a half of sonorities, "Cortege" almost has a tune; over bass and drums sounding like tympany there's Goldberg, higher-register and more intense than elsewhere, joined by the tenor wailing and some quite high-pitched quivering violin.
It's all atmosphere, even the unlisted fourteenth track, ensemble intro, Goldberg over bass and drums, and the tenorist. There is nothing to break the mood of what might well be called a wake. The next stage would of course be a New Orleans funeral, which Lacy might well have managed. I rather miss it, but surely not a patch on how much many people miss him!