Ben Goldberg: Go Home (2009)
Between the rather eclectic and enigmatic The Door, The Chair, The Hat, The Fact (Cryptogramophone, 2006) and Plays Monk (Long Song, 2007), his characteristically idiosyncratic and unorthodox trio take on the music of Thelonious Monk, clarinetist Ben Goldberg continues to expand his broad musical interests, heard in earlier groups including Tin Hat and New Klezmer Trio. Few American artists other than Don Byron and Perry Robinson have focused so exclusively on this small wooden reed instrument, and while Goldberg's left-of-center concerns sometimes mirror Robinson's, he's equally influenced by more youthful concerns, a differentiator made all the more obvious on Go Home.
The Door, The Chair was a largely more cerebral affair; Go Home is no less thought-out, but with Amendola and 7-String guitar wiz Charlie Hunter onboard, it's a disc that grooves with serious intent and attitude. In addition to playing together in Hunter's mid-1990s quartet, Amendola and Hunter created an edgy, aggressive, yet strangely finessed rhythm section in T.J. Kirkthe unlikely musical trifecta of Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk that released two vastly overlooked studio albums including the Grammy-nominated If Four Was One (Warner Bros. 1996). Here, with cornetist/trumpeter Ron Miles added to the mix, Goldberg has fashioned a lean, mean quartet capable of anythingfrom the New Orleans Second Line groove of the blues-tinged "TGO" to the harder, rock-edged "Wazee."
The grooves aren't all booty shaking, however. "Lace" is a dark, oblique ballad that, with Hunter's gritty tone and tremolo, enters roots territory until Goldberg and Miles begin to solo in spare, idiosyncratic tandemFrisellian, to some extent, and no stretch given the guitarist's influence on Hunter's early days and Miles' ongoing musical relationship on the road and on albums including History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008). "Head and Tails" is equally brooding, with Miles' plangent tone and engaged intuition leading to a solo from Goldberg that's just as economical, and just as compelling.
Four of Go Home's ten original songs were recorded live in Mill Valley, California, not far from Berkeley, where the Denver-born Goldberg has lived for many years. There's a little extra energy, especially on the rocking "Ethan's Song," where Hunter takes another of his head-scratching "how does he do it" solos where it's almost impossible to imagine that one player is playing bass and guitar parts simultaneously, except that interplay is all the more empathic, given this is truly a duo of one. "Isosceles" begins with a groove straight out of The Temptations' "My Girl," but quickly opens up into something freer, with Amendola's loose and flexible support and solos from both Miles and Goldberg that are amongst the set's best. Amendola is featured on the sketch-driven "Papermaker," with a solo that closes the album on a high note.
With each new entry in his gradually expanding discography, Goldberg is finding new ways to combine a multiplicity of musical interests. Eclectic and loose, but with grooves that will make believers out of even the most improv-averse, Go Home is the perfect combination of music for the head, the heart...and the feet.
Track Listing: TGO; Wazee; Lace; Root and Branch; Head and Tails; Ethan's Song; Inevitable; Isosceles; Reparation; Papermaker.
Personnel: Ben Goldberg: clarinet; Charlie Hunter: 7-String guitar; Scott Amendola: drums; Ron Miles: cornet, G trumpet.