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Ben Goldberg: Clarinet Communion

By Published: March 30, 2010

AAJ: That's a big feeling you get out of these recordings—the atypical use of space for klezmer or even jazz. So, how did it start? How did the band come together, and how did you start composing tunes for the Trio?

BG: I just had this feeling, like I wanted to do something that felt more personal and more like me, more modern or more avant-garde. And I started to see the possibilities, where you could do that using the klezmer material. And I had put so much work into it—I knew [the music] backwards and forwards, I knew how the melodies worked and everything. So I was just dying to try something that stepped beyond the usual thing. Plus, you know, if you're playing music and it's being presented to the audience and being talked about amongst the musicians as a faithful recreation of something that people used to do 60 years ago—that's not something I really wanted to be doing.

I started feeling funny on stage. To me, music was something that people were doing right now and making something new out of. So I really didn't feel good about being part of an operation- -more generally a music community or movement—that held that as its highest ideal.

AAJ: How did you go about breaking free from that?

BG: The ingredients were all right there. All I had to do was step into it. I had musicians I could work with [in Kenny Wollesen and Dan Seamans]. I had the repertoire at my fingertips: the articulations, the ways of playing the melodies, and stuff like that. And I had the energy. You see, this energy had built up, and it just needed to be released because it had built up to such an extent that it's like there was no way that I could have not done the New Klezmer Trio. That's another thing—that style of music and playing has a lot of compressed energy. It has a lot of starting and stopping, and stuttering phrasing, and stuff that keeps dwelling in the same place over and over. That stuff builds up a lot of internal pressure, and it just needed to be released. So that was the easy thing. There was nothing else to do at that point.

AAJ: When you look back on composing these tunes or playing them from the first time, what are your impressions? Was it a kind of blur coming out?

BG: No, I definitely remember the work that went into it. Composing the music. I remember a lot of the rehearsals, how we figured out what we were doing, and rehearsing the hell out of it. We had some hard songs. If you listen to that first record, there are songs like "Masks and Faces"—I couldn't play that song today. We could play it then. We could land on the right place together, which is quite an accomplishment.

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