Wednesday, September 04, 2019

CD Review: Ben Goldberg - Good Day for Cloud Fishing

Ben Goldberg
Good Day for Cloud Fishing

Ben Goldberg has incorporated poetry into his music on previous albums. His group the Tin Hat Trio drew from e. e. cummings for The Rain Is a Handsome Animal. The poetic musings of Allen Grossman, a writer and former teacher of Goldberg, were combined with music on Goldberg's expansive Orphic Machine. Good Day for Cloud Fishing takes the creative process deeper, creating a work that must be experienced physically.

The clarinetist wrote 12 pieces inspired by particular poems by Dean Young. When he recorded them with guitarist Nels Cline and trumpeter Ron Miles, Young came to the sessions and sat in an isolation booth, listening to the music. Not knowing which of his poems inspired the tunes being played, he in turn reacted to the trio by writing a new poem on the spot. The resulting 24 poems - the "entry" ones that lead to the music and the "exit" poetry that were born in the studio - are printed on cards that come in a clamshell box that houses the CD and a 16-page booklet.

The music on Good Day for Cloud Fishing can be approached from several angles. Overlook the poetic aspect of the album, and the attention zeroes in on a unique chamber group. It opens with a slow, whole note melody by Miles and Goldberg (who sounds like he overdubbed his contra-alto clarinet behind his B-flat clarinet). After the simple melody, which acts like a literal entrance, they turn the floor over to Cline, whose effects-heavy playing gives it a bit of a carnival-esque feel. All this serenity in a piece titled "Demonic Possession is 9/10s of The Law."

Throughout the set, the trio proves they could be a good accompaniment to Tom Waits ("A Rhyhtmia," "Ant-Head Sutures"), creates noirish soundtracks ("Because She Missed a Test, She Introduces Me to Her Boa"), get delicate ("Reality") and mix shrill and skronk ("Sub Club Punch Card"). Between Goldberg's contra-alto taking the role of a bassist, and Cline's rhythmic picking, it's easy to forget that the percussive feel in a track like "A Rhythmia" is not coming from a percussionist.

After exploring the music on its own, it's best to take a secondary listen with the poems in hand, understanding the way Young shaped the music, directly or indirectly. Goldberg didn't necessarily attempt to transfer a poem like "Surprised Again by Rain" into notes. But it, and the other poems, deepen the experience, in some way making the nuances in Goldberg's work more noticeable when they're discovered in tandem with the words. 

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