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Album Review

Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens To Be.

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Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens To Be.
The music of Ben Goldberg seems to come from a place outside of time—or maybe it comes from several times simultaneously. Maybe it's the instruments he chooses; while the clarinet family has been on the comeback trail in jazz for a quarter century, it's a sound that invariably invokes the New Orleans of a century ago. That's especially true when Goldberg picks up the mellow, woody, Albert-system E-flat instrument on "Cold Weather." That tune's sweet melancholy wobbles perilously close to Hoagy Carmichael, but by way of "Pannonica" by Thelonious Monk, another composer who had a soft spot for sentimental old tunes.

If you're interested in a nostalgia trip, you don't choose guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara to be your traveling companions, and the tension they create between the retrogressive and the transgressive gives Everything Happens To Be. a low-key charge. On paper, Goldberg is following in the great tradition of hiring the All-Star rhythm section of the moment. They are certainly that and as the cooperative Thumbscrew, also one of the formidable bands of the last decade. But Everything Happens To Be. isn't a Thumbscrew+horns date.

Goldberg has worked with Halvorson and Fujiwara as The Out Louds, and with Formanek in a variety of settings. Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin is a long-time Goldberg collaborator who shares the leader's affection for putting new wine in old bottles. His big tenor sound, slippery but warm, hearkens back to players such as Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Gene Ammons and fits right in on the almost-vaudevillian bounce of tunes such as "21" and "To-Ron-To." If you've always wanted to hear Halvorson strum four-to-the-bar, Freddie Green-style, cue the latter, which seems to be based loosely on "Sweet Georgia Brown." It ends in a collective, New-Orleanean tangle that resolves into something like a 21st-century updating of the Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian and Georgie Auld. It takes iron control to play this loose. But then there are knottier compositions such as "Fred Hampton," a lilting, 6/4 tune where Halvorson spins a songful line only to smudge it with a pedal effect, as if to say let's not make this too pretty. Yet beauty is never far away on Everything Happens To Be., though it seldom arrives in conventional fashion. Take "Chorale Type," which starts in church and detours to a middle-school gym where Goldberg and Halvorson circle each other warily like seventh graders at their first dance. The almost 10-minute cut ends in the mosh pit with Goldberg getting his metal on via a stomping bass line on contra-alto clarinet over Fujiwara's slamming 4/4. The exception is another chorale, "Abide With Me" which, inspired by Monk's 1957 septet version, is played straight in a single reverent chorus.

Though this session was recorded at New Haven's Firehouse 12 in 2018, that hymn tune is a perfect way to and a session that feels old and sounds fresh, that is joyful and melancholy. Just like life.

Track Listing

What About; 21; Fred Hampton; Everything Happens To Be.; Cold Weather; Chorale Type; Tomas Plays the Drums; Long Last Moment; To-Ron-To; Abide With Me

Personnel

Ben Goldberg: clarinet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ellery Eskelin: saxophone; Michael Formanek: bass, acoustic; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

Album information

Title: Everything Happens To Be. | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: BAG Production

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