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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ben Goldberg - Unfold Ordinary Mind (BAG Productions, 2013) ***

Reviewed by Joe

Ben Goldberg is back again. Somehow there seems no limit to his energy, performing and writing like there's no tomorrow! On this newish release Goldberg is joined by saxophonists, Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth, a guitar genius (and now certifiable rock star) Nels Cline, and drummer Ches Smith. On the previous Ben Goldberg release reviewed here Philip Coombs clearly enjoyed Goldberg's accessible style. His music, originally more 'Ornette' oriented, has crept slowly but surely towards a more melodic direction. This doesn't mean Goldberg's music wasn't melodic before, however his style of writing was more angular - at least that's what I remember thinking back to albums "Here By Now", "What Comes Before", "Eight Phrase for Jefferson Rubin" or "Twelve Minor". 

On this record Ben Goldberg created a raunchy gospel tinged, funky and 'rootsy' blend of tunes which rely heavily on his contra-alto clarinet to provide a deep growling bass line. Rob Sudduth (an new name for me) and Ellery Eskelin play some snaky type lines over the seven joyfull tunes with Nels Cline and Ches Smith keeping a healthy beat going for the band to 'do their thing'. With the lack of a bass Ben Goldberg's primary role is to hold the whole band together harmonically. This gives the music (and the band) a quasi gospel come New Orleans brass band feel, with melodies being strongly arranged and of course attention given to the contra-alto clarinets bass lines, which are strong melodies on their own. 

There's plenty of fun from the soloists also. Nels Cline jumps in with some hard hitting raw guitar lines and loops. His guitar rips into the music with a real edge, something that makes for exciting listening, on "Stemwinder"(tk6) he almost breaks your speakers open! Eskelin and Sudduth blow very mainstream modern bop-ish lines over the tunes. On "Parallelogram" (tk2) the saxes wail above the ensemble taking turns to give their own testimony. There are darker moments on the album, "Lone" (tk4) sounds like an Ornette Coleman type ballad with rubato rhythm section. "I Miss The SLA" (tk5) also flies out of the speakers like a rude remark at a party. Nels Cline gets to take his guitar apart before Eskelin, Sudduth, Goldberg and Smith jump back in with the melody (rude remark). "Stemwinder" as already mentioned, gives a great chance for everybody to play some really dirty and gritty music, blowing hard and melodically over this relentless attack. The last track "Breathing Room" (tk7) is exactly that, a lovely ending to the record, no drums, just melody.

This is certainly a good record, and an interesting addition to Goldberg's catalogue. Its accessible, raunchy, fun and catchy, something you don't find everyday in the world of modern jazz.   

Here's a clip of the band in action playing "Parallelogram", track two on the album. Unfortunately you don't get the 'punch' of the album sound, but at least you get a chance to sample the style of music. Check out Ben Goldberg's amazing raunchy contra-alto clarinet!