Two Sides of Ben Goldberg

Troy Collins By

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Developments in the evolving recording industry have inspired an increasing number of musicians to form their own labels. San Francisco-based clarinetist Ben Goldberg, a veteran of the 1990s Downtown New York scene, joined many of his peers in 2009 with Go Home, the inaugural release of his BAG Production Records imprint. Goldberg's prior efforts, issued by independents like Songlines and Tzadik, included an assortment of diverse projects, ranging from the Radical Jewish Culture experiments of the New Klezmer Trio to the deconstructed bebop of Junk Genius. Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues and Unfold Ordinary Mind are Goldberg's two most recent endeavors, unveiling additional facets of his eclectic aesthetic.

Ben Goldberg

Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues

BAG Production


Originally recorded in 2008, Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues features an all-star acoustic line-up inspired by Goldberg's fortuitous meeting with saxophonist Joshua Redman. After sharing a double bill and deciding to make an album together, Goldberg invited fellow Denver, Colorado native Ron Miles to add his expressive trumpet alongside Redman's muscular tenor and the leader's supple clarinet. The longstanding duo of bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Ches Smith (aka, Good For Cows) was subsequently recruited to provide the three horn frontline rhythmic support.

Evoking stately Bachian chorales, the malleable horn section infuses Goldberg's sophisticated compositions with an evocative array of textures, their vibrant polyphony further intensified by the group's jubilant collective improvisations. They impart passionate lyricism to the old fashioned ballad "How To Do Things With Tears," celebratory verve to the ebullient travelogue "Who Died and Where I Moved To," and fervent conviction to the dramatic funeral dirge "Possible." Bolstered by the rhythm section's nimble rapport, the horn players collaboratively update cordial Dixieland-styled exchanges with freewheeling Ornettish dynamics, imbuing timeless traditions with bold, modernist vitality.

Ben Goldberg

Unfold Ordinary Mind

BAG Production


The genesis of Unfold Ordinary Mind originated from Goldberg's doubling on the rare contra-alto clarinet, primarily as an ensemble member of the critically acclaimed collective Tin Hat. Generally limiting his role to that of bassist in an unusual electro-acoustic quintet, Goldberg's subterranean perambulations underpin the virtuosic guitar wizardry of Nels Cline and the robust intertwining tenors of Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth, aided by Smith's propulsive drumming.

Cline's quicksilver fretwork—a scintillating mosaic of distorted refrains, quavering tremolos and phantasmagoric feedback—largely dominates the proceedings, emboldening the date with a theatrical rock intensity accentuated by Smith's forceful downbeats. Eskelin and Sudduth hold their own, emphasizing the soulful blues and R&B foundations of Goldberg's sinuous countermelodies and lush harmonies. The song-like quality of the leader's writing can be heard immediately in the regal opener, "Elliptical," which rises to a fevered pitch comparable to the ecstatic climax of the funky blues excursion "Stemwinder," while introspective numbers like "Lone" and "Breathing Room" reveal a gift for lyrical restraint and melodic development.

Goldberg's tuneful, emotionally direct melodies and engaging arrangements transcend the differences between acoustic and electric sonorities, harmoniously underscoring the accessible nature of both sessions. The New Orleans-infused horn section interplay of Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues capitalizes on Goldberg's contrapuntal sensibility, while Cline's psychedelic efx palette instills the memorable themes of Unfold Ordinary Mind with a bracing, contemporary luster. Whether divining inspiration from past antecedents or modern innovations, Goldberg's compositional purview is consistently imaginative, as demonstrated by the stylistic diversity heard on these two releases.

Tracks and Personnel

Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues

Tracks: Evolution; Ethan's Song; Study of the Blues; Doom; The Because Of; Possible; Asterisk; Satisfied Mind; Who Died and Where I Moved To; Lopse; How To Do Things With Tears.

Personnel: Ben Goldberg: Bb clarinet, contra-alto clarinet; Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; Ron Miles: trumpet; Devin Hoff: bass; Ches Smith: drums; Scott Amendola: drums (5, 6).

Unfold Ordinary Mind

Tracks: Elliptical; Parallelogram; xcpf; Lone; I Miss the SLA; Stemwinder; Breathing Room.

Personnel: Ben Goldberg: contra-alto clarinet, Bb clarinet; Nels Cline: guitar; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Rob Sudduth: tenor saxophone; Ches Smith: drums.


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