Ben Goldberg's Bag: Tin Hat & Go Home

Dan Bilawsky By

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Ben Goldberg's music has never followed a set course or formula and the forward-thinking clarinetist always sticks to his guns when making artistic decisions. This has often resulted in positive press for his innovative work and it appears to have propelled him to take control of his own destiny. BAG Production Records is Goldberg's new, self-created label and it serves as an outlet for him to present his recordings to the world at large. Goldberg's work with reed players John Zorn and Don Byron, pianist Myra Melford, and trumpeter Steven Bernstein—to name just a few examples—places him within the orbit of some of the most original thinkers and adventurous jazz musicians of the present day, and his own music reflects these associations.

Tin Hat
Foreign Legion
BAG Production Records

Tin Hat Trio might have dropped the "trio" part of its name when it expanded, but it continues to create innovative music on Foreign Legion. Violinist Carla Kihlstedt, Goldberg, guitarist Mark Orton and trumpeter Ara Anderson—along with two guest spots from percussionist Matthias Bossi—create their own enchanting blend of Appalachian folk strands, staid chamber music, carnival pieces, klezmer and free jazz. Looking at the instrumentation for this group, which includes violin, guitar, dobro, trumpet, pump organ, glockenspiel, clarinet, contra alto clarinet and several other instruments, it's easy to see the possibilities.

While this material was all recorded live—in Mallorca, Spain and Berkeley, California—the presentation makes it feel like it was crafted in the studio. The 15 tracks were culled from the entire catalog of the band and they cover an incredible amount of ground in terms of stylistic diversity. Woozy, seasick musical sentiments appear on one track and then, mere minutes later, bastardized tango, Americana-influenced sounds, and gypsy-derived coloring all appear in other places. Goldberg provides some free jazz squeaks and squawks with his contra alto clarinet on one track and the band even performs a couple of pieces that sound like they could have been pulled from an Ennio Morricone film score ("Sunrise At Independence" and "New West"). Simple ostinatos and repetitive motifs often underscore the lead instruments on each track but the music never gets stale. While Orton wrote the majority of the compositions here, the performances of these musical fantasias are all group efforts.

Go Home
Go Home
BAG Production Records

Go Home is Goldberg's project with 7-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Scott Amendola and trumpet player Ron Miles. This band creates highly accessible modern jazz that often grooves and rocks. Goldberg and Miles create some interesting sounds as they harmonize different passages and both men create sparks with their solos throughout the record. Hunter and Amendola can be just as adventurous as the two horn players at times, but they also make this music so much more enjoyable because of the way that they provide rhythmic grounding. These guys aren't afraid to mess around or simply play a straightforward groove, be it in a rock style or otherwise.

Hunter's guitar work is gritty and exciting on the energetic fare but his playing is equally important on the more exotic material. His bass lines provide stability on the eerie, Bill Frisell-like pieces, which resemble a walk through musical limbo. Miles creates some warm and hazy passages on the slower pieces and Goldberg matches his mood and sound with grace. Amendola provides brushwork that is flexible, yet complementary and important in creating a full picture. Dour or morose introductions often undergo an abrupt change as the band kicks into rollicking segments of music. Goldberg wrote all ten pieces on this CD and his marriage of quirky melody lines and unique solo voices with stable, head-nod inducing grooves is the key to the musical success of Go Home.

Tracks and Personnel

Foreign Legion

Tracks: Helium; Big Top; A Fata Morgana; Company; Waltz Of The Skyscraper; Hotel Aurora; Asterisk; The Last Cowboy; Sunrise At Independence; Ana Ivanovic; Foreign Legion; The Secret Fluid Of Dusk; New West; Slip; Nickel Mountain.

Personnel: Carla Kihlstedt: violin, trumpet violin; Mark Orton: guitar, dobro; Ben Goldberg: clarinets; Ara Anderson: trumpet, pump organ, piano, glockenspiel, percussion; Matthias Bossi: percussion (4, 9).

Go Home

Tracks: 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.

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