Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ben Goldberg School, Vol. I: The Humanities (feat. Kasey Knudsen, Hamir Atwal, Rob Reich, David Ewell & Jeff Cressman) BAG PRODUCTION RECORDS 2017

Now coming to light more than five years after the recordings were made, Vol 1: The Humanities by Ben Goldberg represents a run-up to his widely acclaimed opus, The Orphic Machine. The first release by his then-newest combo the “Ben Goldberg School,” the version of this band that made these sessions included Kasey Knudsen on alto sax, Jeff Cressman on trombone (who also engineered the whole affair), Rob Reich on accordion/piano, David Ewell on bass, and Hamir Atwal on drums. Ben Goldberg plays the instrument he’s practically synonymous with, the clarinet.

Outwardly, the ambitions for this one might fall below that of The Orphic Machine, which isn’t to mean the commitment to quality is any less; after all, some of the ideas presented on The Humanities eventually made it on Orphic. With this smaller ensemble, an emphasis on seductive compositions and arrangements on display is a hallmark of the Tin Hat quartet, the fame creative chamber jazz combo Goldberg co-founded and also features Reich.

A certain solemness pervades this grouping of songs, but not without moments of liberating expression that keep these formal, sometimes intricate charts tethered to humanity. Like “This One Is For Bravery,” a folk melody treated with courtly affection but near the end of it Atwal’s drums loosen up while Cressman, Goldberg and Knudsen splinter away from each other. Or “Nine Pound Hammer,” which boasts lovely harmonies among the horns and a Cressman solo as the rhythm section gets restless before the focus shifts to Ewell and then a return to the theme this time with the restless drums.

“Time Is The New Space” is a multi-sectioned through-composed piece that commences with a stately, Old World style horns-only figure. Reich’s accordion along with Ewell and Atwal softly enters the scene and proceeds to move through distinct carefully constructed themes. “Lagniappe” features rich arrangements of sax, trombone and clarinet plus accordion, a Slavic flavor that hints at the klezmer jazz Goldberg pioneered with the groundbreaking New Klezmer Trio. “Arounds Wears The Hat” is a somber dirge that takes a more hopeful tone on Goldberg’s cue, changing the melody completely, ending this course with the stateliness by which it began.

It sometimes seems that every Ben Goldberg project is a special project, one that goes off the path to deliver on some certain brainchild from his fertile mind. Vol 1: The Humanities is what one might imagine a ‘regular’ Ben Goldberg record to sound like, if such a thing could ever exist. As a composite of ideas and influences introduced elsewhere, this is a fine entry point to his catalog that dilutes none of his expansive artfulness.

01. Time Is the New Space 17:42
02. Nine Pound Hammer 4:48
03. Lagni 10:26
04. What Was That 5:45
05. This One Is For Bravery 6:45
06. Bongoloid Lens 3:42
07. Arounds / Wears the Hat 4:23