From the debut of his seminal New Klezmer Trio two decades ago to his current membership in the inimitable collective Tin Hat, clarinetist Ben Goldberg has gradually worked his way from the outer fringes of the avant-garde to the accessible center of the new jazz underground. Go Home is the inaugural release of his own label, BAG Production, and the premier of his most approachable band.
Aided by guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Scott Amendola and cornetist Ron Miles, Goldberg unveils a collection of pieces that revel in tuneful simplicity. This lineup's straightforward approach towards song form is quite different from any of his previous groups, a fact readily attributed to the influence of Hunter and Amendola, fellow West Coast-based musicians with ample experience in more popular strains of music.
As former members of the Thelonious Monk/James Brown/Rahsaan Roland Kirk tribute band T.J Kirk (as well as working together in Hunter's 1990s quartet), Hunter and Amendola's flair for crafting infectious mid-tempo grooves is legendary. Alternating between streetwise hip-shaking funk and cinematic restraint, their longstanding rapport enriches Goldberg's old-fashioned melodies with a modernist touch, subtly updating Old World forms with their spry interplay and rhythmic gamesmanship. Recorded both live and in the studio, the album embraces a variety of stylistic conventions, opening with sly New Orleans Second-Line funk ("TGO") and closing with a moody dirge ("Papermaker").
Since his move away from major labels a decade ago, Hunter has embraced a more expansive range of sound, generally avoiding the clean, unaffected timbre of his early Blue Note releases in favor of a more raw, bluesy guitar tone. The distorted twang he employs on "Wazee" is but one approach, the spooky tremolo he uses on "Lace" is quite another. Though the quartet is truly a meeting of equals, Hunter's aesthetics have a great deal of influence over their collective approach. His synchronized bass-line and finger-picking excursion on "Ethan's Song" is an apt demonstration of both his ingenious virtuosity and his ability to lift the bandstand, which inspires his band-mates to greater levels of creativity.
A generous leader, Goldberg provides his sidemen with ample solo space, contributing his own statements with a rich sense of melody that encompasses a range of lyrical conventions. His spiraling thematic variations on "TGO" and "Root and Branch" are the flipside to the languid glissandos found on "Lace" and "Head and Tails," an approach mirrored by Miles, whose dulcet tone and economic phrasing provides the session's quieter tunes with a regal austerity. Trading lines on "Wazee," Goldberg and Miles reveal a steady flow of ideas as the piece develops, documenting a truly empathetic collaborative approach.
Buoyed by the enthusiastic contributions of his fellow artists, Go Home is a strong debut for Goldberg's newest venture and his most agreeable release to date.
TGO; Wazee; Lace; Root and Branch; Head and Tails; Ethan's Song; Inevitable; Isosceles; Reparation; Papermaker.
Ben Goldberg: clarinet; Charlie Hunter: 7-string guitar; Scott Amendola: drums; Ron Miles: cornet and G trumpet.
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