Thursday, December 31, 2020

CD Review: Geof Bradfield/ Ben Goldberg/ Dana Hall - General Semantics



Geof Bradfield/ Ben Goldberg/ Dana Hall Trio
General Semantics

When Cecil Taylor performed "Air," it might have swung in the pianist's own way, but it never swung like the opening track of General Semantics. The trio of Geof Bradfield, Ben Goldberg and Dana Hall are working more from the arrangement Steve Lacy used on his Straight Horn Of Steve Lacy album, where he smoothed out the melody into longer tones, which came from opposite registers in Lacy's soprano and Charles Davis' baritone. But this tenor/contra-alto clarinet/drum trio kicks the tempo up a notch, pulsed by Hall's fleet brush work, taking the melody closer to the swing standard "Cherokee." After completing the head, the two horns step lively around one another, soloing in relation to the melody but not feeling constrained by it.

Ben Goldberg is no stranger to pared down groups like this. He has played in duos with drummer Hamir Atwal and keyboardist Michael Coleman - and in a trio with both of them. On Unfold Ordinary Mind, Goldberg's contra-alto clarinet filled in for the lack of a bass, while acting as the third horn, together with saxophonists Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth. On the other hand, Geof Bradfield's 2018 album for Delmark (Yes, and ...Music for Nine Improvisors) put him at the helm of a larger group (including Dana Hall as the drummer), playing a suite that features some free excursions as well as big band-style moments. Here, Goldberg alternates between the contra-alto and the B-flat clarinet; Bradfield switches between bass clarinet, tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone. 

General Semantics lives in an area where early jazz improvisation - heavy on counterpoint with parallel lines that respect the path of the other players - combines with an approach that isn't afraid of pursuing greater rhythmic and melodic freedom. Goldberg alternates between the contra-alto and the B-flat clarinets; Bradfield switches between bass clarinet, tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone. Because of that, textures change regularly. In "Tioga Street Zenith" the two clarinets weave around one another while Hall uses the brushes behind them, out of tempo. "Lamentation" features more parallel improvisation but this time, they conclude by stating the theme over a straight ahead 4/4 groove, keeping the swing going.

The title track begins with some husky tenor sax playing, but quickly adds a heavy backbeat, and Goldberg proves to be the best substitute for a raunchy bass guitar. Duke Ellington's "Half the Fun" scales down to contra-alto and soprano sax, and it becomes clear that this trio interacts so well that they don't leave any time to miss a regular bassist or other harmonic accompanist. 

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