If you look at the Store you will see that "Here By Now" is on sale for $4.00. It's a beautiful record, and I'm running out of shelf space!
Also, I am now a published author! Patrick Jarenwattananon of the NPR jazz site A Blog Supreme invited me to write about five clarinetists who have been important to me. I selected a track each from, and reflected upon the sound of, John Carter, Jimmy Hamilton, Jimmy Giuffre, Michael Moore, and Sidney Bechet (pictured in the lovely photo below). You can have a look here.
This all started a month ago when I was getting ready to present a colloquium for the Music Department at UCSC. I began listening to all my old records, and amazingly when I expected to cringe instead I found myself enjoying some pretty good music! I heard a spirit, and a heart, in the music, and an agenda of curiosity and exploration that embodied important qualities from my life at those times. One that jumped out in particular was Junk Genius, a record that I made with John Schott, Trevor Dunn, and Kenny Wollesen in 1995.
It’s funny to think that this project originated with John and me wanting to learn some songs to get better at jam sessions! We focused on songs by Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie -- music of the "bebop" era. Of course what happened next wouldn’t have fit into the kind of jam sessions we originally had in mind – like most creative goals it proved to be a kind of inverse confirmation of Yogi Berra’s famous advice: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”
We went at it with hammer and tongs. And discovered, not for the first or last time, that if you are dealing with material this strong, then your attempts to fuck with it result in you yourself being transformed into a vessel for the further beauty and truth of the original vision. And thus, Junk Genius.
I think Molly Barker captured the state of affairs pretty well with her paintin of the enigmatic purple-faced man (menacing? depressed?) for the cover, although Steve Lacy sent a postcard: “I like the music; I do NOT like the title”.
While I enjoyed hearing the music again, I also realized that the sound could be improved. So I handed it to none other than Jon Cohrs of Spleenless Mastering in Brooklyn (Jon mastered the recent records by Tin Hat, and my new releases Unfold Ordinary Mind and Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues). Jon is reluctant to call what he did a "remastering," since who knows where the master tapes are now, but he did an excellent job and I think you will like the result.
I am happy to be offering this record for the first time in many years as a high-quality digital download exclusively through bandcamp, beginning on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
I’m very excited about the imminent release of Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues and Unfold Ordinary Mind on BAG Production records next Tuesday. Here are some thoughts about the releases and how to buy them, a couple of videos, and a new essay about Music, and Art.
The critics are already weighing in: The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff writes that the records convey “a feeling of joyous research into the basics of polyphony and collective improvising, the constant usefulness of musicians intuitively coming together and pulling apart.” (Read the full review here).
In the Chicago Reader Peter Margasak says “Both albums mark a concerted effort by the reedist to bring out his more melodic side, and on that count he succeeds magnificently, delivering some of the most gorgeous and pleasing compositions in his career.”
And over at Something Else Reviews Victor Aaron considers Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues: “Clarinetist Ben Goldberg sometimes gets so out front with his musical vision, it takes years to catch up with him.” And, in regard to Unfold Ordinary Mind: “Keep in mind, though, that there’s nothing ordinary about Ben Goldberg’s music, not even on an album with the word “ordinary” in the name.”
Until February 19, both records are available for download exclusively on iTunes at itunes.com/bengoldberg, and you can pre-order cd’s at www.bengoldberg.net/store, After that you can find them on amazon.com, bandcamp, and the usual places.
Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (BAG003) featuresJoshua Redman, tenor saxophone;Ron Miles, trumpet;Devin Hoff, bass;Ches SmithandScott Amendola, drums. Recorded back in 2008, it’s a swinging affair that is just now seeing the light of day. Ten original compositions, a cover of a Bob Dylan cover -- and on iTunes one bonus track. Here are Joshua Redman and I playing a duet on Study of the Blues.
Unfold Ordinary Mind (BAG004) featuresNels Cline, guitar;Ellery Eskelin andRob Sudduth, tenors saxophone;Ches Smith, drums; on this one I am the bass player, on contra-alto clarinet. Seven original compositions. We made the record in one day and the results are raw and direct. Here we are in Baltimore performing PARALLELOGRAM:
Our friends at BLACK PARROT PRODUCTIONS produced a video of me speaking about THE MAKING OF UNFOLD ORDINARY MIND:.
The CD of Unfold Ordinary Mind also contains a beautiful accordion-fold booklet painted by Molly Barker. Recently I was thinking about our amazing two decades of collaboration (beginning with the very first NEW KLEZMER TRIOrecord) and I was moved to write an essay on MUSIC, AND ART: MY PARTNERSHIP WITH MOLLY BARKERwhich you can read by clicking the link, or by visiting my website.
Mr. Ratliff says there is "a feeling of joyous research into the basics of polyphony and collective improvising, the constant usefulness of musicians intuitively coming together and pulling apart." Read the full review at
Our friend Pete Butchers from Cambridge England, who has a radio show called Jazz Today, writes:
"Sometimes an album lands in your lap, and it’s that good, you struggle to choose which tracks to play. Such was the case with Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues, a new release from clarinettist Ben Goldberg.
On this album, Ben manages to mine that exciting seam of jazz that falls between the tradition and the free. And he brings in some heavyweight support to help him with the task, namely Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone, Ron Miles, trumpet, Devin Hoff, bass and Ches Smith or Scott Amendola drums.
Ben’s come a long way since his early recordings with the New Klezmer Trio two decades ago. Sadly this particular lineup was (as Ben puts it) 'a band for a day'. But as you can tell from the music, they were made for each other!"
“While I gather the meaning of things, I am always more or less in a state of dream.”
--Allen Grossman, from Summa Lyrica
Saw my dad, Al Goldberg, in a dream last night. Al departed this world on May 30, 2009 and occasionally visits his children in dreams, almost always eliciting a warm feeling, like "everything is fine" -- basically the same effect of being around him in real life. (In the last few months of his life when I was in Denver with him and my mother I was finishing up the record Speech Communication, named for my father's academic discipline. The first track, Language Behavior, takes its title from a book he edited.)
A few years ago I was visited in a dream by Al and his mother, the amazing and dearly missed Eva Goldberg from Lvov, the night before we made the Trapeze Project record with Sarah Wilson. A Persian folk tune called Fall Has Arrived was to be mostly solo clarinet, and even though recording studio + solo clarinet piece often = self consciousness, Al and Eva really took care of business. I knew my ancestors were present and everything was cool.
Anyway in my dream last night I told Al "that's so funny because I saw you in my dream last night, a dream where there were two of you: one was really you, and the other was a leftover visitor from a dream I had just had." So, everything comes around, and nice to have Al’s final blessings on an extraordinary year.
A slight digression from music. One thing I regret my father not being around to see, and at which he would have joined all of us in a great sigh of relief, is the reelection of Barack Obama. Recent experience in US politics has suggested that it is possible to fool enough of the people most of the time, and it certainly looked as if 2012 would be the year that big money ushered in a whole new level of plutocracy. A toast to the innate common sense that allowed Americans to detect the smell of rat placed directly under their nose.
And now back to everything coming around and a dream inside of a dream inside my dream of music in the past year.
I am happy to announce that I have just received a major grant from The Shifting Foundation of Utah that will enable me to produce a proper recording of my major work of 2012, Orphic Machine. (Videos from the premiere ofOrphic Machine can be found on the BAG Production youtube channel).
With this good news to end 2012, I’ve been thinking about the beginning, when I started writing Orphic Machine, my most ambitious work to-date, a project that provides a kind of “before” and “after” for everything else I have done.
The premiere of Orphic Machine was set for March 4, and I began work in January not knowing what I would make but with the goal of creating a thoroughly composed piece that would take the blunt and irreducible aphorisms of Allen Grossman’s Summa Lyrica and spread them melodically across the sky for contemplation and reflection.
Well, writing counterpoint for nine instruments and voice was bigger than anything I had attempted previously, and I went through a period that must seem familiar to some of you, where each step along the way produces a blossoming infinity of new requirements, so that at first moving forward is essentially moving backward. But this is how the project assumes its proper focus and shape, and eventually ten songs emerged, each according to its own internal spirit and coordinates.
Professor Grossman’s book had worked hard on me, and something in me had worked hard to create a new place for the transmission of value across time. I was present at the creation, but who had done the work and who was speaking? Professor Grossman writes: “The speaker in the poem has not heard of the author, and refuses to examine the question.”
(More thoughts on Orphic Machine can be found in the Projects page of this website, under "Nonet.")
One thing about creating Orphic Machine: it left me in a much different place than where I had started. I got better at writing music and more confident in being able to complete a big project. So right away I got to work on something I had been dreaming about: a group in which I played bass, on the contra alto clarinet. I called up Ellery Eskelin, Rob Sudduth, Nels Cline, and Ches Smith, wrote a bunch of songs, and we got together in April and made a record in one day. After a few days of ear-opening mixing with the amazing Mr. Eli Crews at New, Improved Recording in Oakland, that record took shape as Unfold Ordinary Mind, to be released February 19 on BAG Production.
Unfold Ordinary Mind reminded me of an orphaned project from 2008 -- and since I like to release albums in pairs, the long-awaited Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues, with Joshua Redman tearing it up on tenor saxophone, will also come out on February 19. I’ve been working with the artist Molly Barker (see Molly's work throughout this website) and the designer Anna Singer to create packaging for these CDs in order to present the music just right, including Molly’s amazing accordion-fold painting that will be included with copies of Unfold Ordinary Mind. I'm also enjoying working with the inimitable Matt Merewitz of Fully Altered Media in the important work of getting the word out about these records.
Right after we recorded Unfold Ordinary Mind I got busy writing a suite of solo guitar pieces at the request of one of my favorite musicians, Mr. Shahzad Ismaily, which included three “Lack Songs” from poems by Susan Stewart. This was followed by a period of Elliott Smith study, which gave rise to another suite of new music, “Come Back Elliott Smith,” commissioned by San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music. Ben Goldberg School performed the suite in workshop form October 21 at the deYoung Museum of Art in San Francisco.
Baltimore is Ellery’s hometown, and right down the street from the Windup Space he pointed out the building that used to be known as the Famous Ballroom, where the Left Bank Jazz Society presented concerts beginning in 1967, including what turned out to be the final concert of John Coltrane. Ellery has written about the Society here.
These were actually our first performances as a group, after having recorded Unfold Ordinary Mind in April (out February 19 2013 on BAG Production). And even though the CD sounds about as good as I could imagine (better, actually, since how could I have imagined the beauty and surprise that these guys would bring to my songs?), the concerts took things to a whole new level, as I knew they would. The intertwining big sounds of Messrs. Eskelin and Sudduth, the grit and twang of Nels Cline, and the sonic upheaval that is Ches Smith left me holding on for dear life, and enjoying every minute of it.
Fortunately the shows in Baltimore and Philadelphia were recorded on video -- look for things to get posted as soon as we sort through the material.
Today is the release of Tin Hat's new record, The Rain Is A Handsome Animal, on New Amsterdam Records. We wrote 17 songs based on the poems of E E Cummings (a couple instrumental, but mostly with his words as lyrics). We came up with some great songs, and the recording is superb -- excellent sounds and inspired performances.
Happy to invite you all to the world premiere performances of a piece I am working on now called Orphic Machine. First of all, scroll down for a moment to see who the musicians are and that's probably all you need to convince you that you have to be there!
The piece is based on the writings of Allen Grossman, a man very near to my heart for what is now most of my life. It was commissioned by the wonderful Chamber Music America and The 27th Jewish Music Festival, with support from the East Bay Community Foundation. It will be presented twice:
Here are the program notes I just wrote for the evening:
"The Orphic Machine is the poem: a severed head with face turned away that sings."
-- Allen Grossman
In 1978 I attended Brandeis University for one year as a freshman. It was my good fortune to get thrown into a dorm room with Tass Bey, a young man from Montreal who believed in the transformational power of literature to a degree beyond anybody I had previously encountered. At the freshman writing exam -- where you are supposed to demonstrate your understanding of the three-part essay -- Tass wrote a piece which began “As noon is a palindrome which separates night from day…” He flunked. That was the first time I met anybody who would sacrifice themselves for art.
Tass introduced me to pre-White Album Beatles and the writing of Leonard Cohen. Later he was to introduce me to some other things, but first he instructed me to enroll in a literature course entitled The Representation of Experience taught by a man called Allen Grossman. That course hit me very hard. We read old books – The Bible, Gilgamesh, Moby-Dick, etc., and Professor Grossman showed us into a world where reading, thought, meaning, action, and understanding came together. I wouldn’t say he taught us – it’s more like he embodied the business of knowing.
Years later, finding my way out of a dark period of life, I developed a sudden thirst for poetry. I got in touch with the poet Susan Stewart after I heard echoes of Allen Grossman in her work. Susan invited me to attend a 2004 gathering in honor of Professor Grossman’s retirement from Johns Hopkins where he read very powerfully from his poems. I began studying a book of his called Summa Lyrica: A Primer of the Commonplaces in Speculative Poetics. The book is constructed as a set of interrelated aphorisms whose purpose is “to bring to mind ‘the poem,’ as an object of thought and as an instrument for thinking.”
I read Summa Lyrica for five years, hoping that I would eventually arrive at an understanding of the work. I told Chamber Music America that I intended to write a piece whose structure reflected the structure of the book. But as a poem cannot be restated in other words (for then it would be a different poem), the book would not allow me to summarize or map it. I began to see that the aphorisms in the book had been working on me, and I just needed to let them work directly on the music, by using them as lyrics for songs, which you will hear this evening.
Professor Grossman speaks of poetry as an instrument for the conservation of value across time. His work has created work for me. Now I hope that you will find something of value in the act of listening.
The ensemble, an expanded version of my Quintet, couldn’t be finer. It will involve: