A fortuitous meeting between veteran clarinetist Ben Goldberg
and two up-and-coming stalwarts of the Chicago creative jazz scene, saxophonist Geof Bradfield
and drummer Dana Hall
, General Semantics
is a tribute to the power of spontaneous interaction among like-minded musicians. Although Bradfield and Hall have worked together extensively since Bradfield's quintet album Our Roots
(Origin Records, 2015), neither had performed with Goldberg. But when the three met at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in 2017 and discovered their sympathetic, wide-ranging musical interests, it was only a matter of time before they came together as a trio, and they were finally able to do so in crafting this fine disc in 2018.
The album's diverse stylistic palette stands out right away. Bradfield and Hall are quite comfortable in the avant-garde campnote Bradfield's remarkably creative Yes, And...Music for Nine Improvisers
(Delmark, 2018), on which Hall also plays a pivotal roleand Goldberg cut his teeth playing the music of Steve Lacy
, so he is no stranger to radical experimentation either. But all three musicians also share a stylistically omnivorous sensibility which allows them to find a trusty pathway to accessibility no matter what they are playing. Goldberg's work with Allison Miller
's Boom Tic Boom is only the most obvious example of his love for engaging, head-bobbing music, while Bradfield's Our Roots
covers the landscape of African-American music from the blues to New Orleans swing. It is no surprise, then, to find pieces from both Cecil Taylor
and Duke Ellington
on General Semantics
, or to find these guys having so much fun playing them.
Taylor's "Air" kicks off the album and, with Bradfield on tenor sax and Goldberg on the deep-toned contra-alto clarinet, it is a dark-hued take, but perfect in featuring the duo's preternatural rapport, with Hall's nimble brushwork keeping the track light on its feet. Other pieces venture into more contemplative territory, with Bradfield's "Tioga Street Zenith" a poignant, almost mournful elegy and "Lamentation" a chance for Bradfield's bass clarinet to entwine lyrical lines with Goldberg's B-flat version before eventually settling into a firm groove under Hall's direction.
As good as the slower pieces are, the album is at its best on the up-tempo numbers, when it is easier to just get lost in the music and relish the musicians' evident love for it. The New Orleans vibe is alive and well on the ironically-titled "Last Important Heartbreak of the Year," where the trio cuts loose on a vigorous, buoyant melody and infectious rhythm, while Goldberg's "Hit Flip Switch" makes the Big Easy connection even more explicit, with Bradfield's soprano sax and Goldberg's clarinet offering the most jubilant music on the album. Hermeto Pascoal's "8 de Agosto" is another delight, with the two horns' melodic and improvisational facility both in evidence, and Ellington's "Half the Fun" showcases Bradfield's and Goldberg's arranging skills, paring down the big-band chart dramatically, yet without losing an ounce of the original's sinuous potency.
"Under and Over," the album's closer, perfectly encapsulates the trio's distinctive magic; after an unstructured opening with some spirited free improvisation between Bradfield and Hall, the track settles into a funk-based groove, generating some down-and-dirty collective soloing, before finally ending with a pensive coda. The musicianship is undeniably serious but, as this album makes clear, there is an awful lot of joy to be found in the midst of it.
Air; Tioga Street Zenith; Last Important Heartbreak of the Year; Lamentation; Hit Flip Switch; General Semantics; Half
the Fun; 3-4-5; 8 de Agosto; He Never Met a Stranger; Under and Over.
Geof Bradfield: soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Ben Goldberg: contra-alto clarinet.