-Originally published in the NYC Jazz Record, August 2019-
Ben Goldberg, Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic 2019)
CD review by John Pietaro
Within the varied realm where jazz meets poetry, ranging from early Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance to the Beat Generation and Word Jazz to Baraka and the Black Arts Movement through the Last Poets and the shock of the new, clarinetist Ben Goldberg has carved a singular path. Instead of having a poet reading/improvising with a jazz ensemble, or simply having the ensemble react to written poetry, Goldberg composed music based on twelve works by acclaimed poet Dean Young, rebel of the second New York School of poets whose verse reaches well into surrealism. But once Goldberg brought celebrated guitarist Nels Cline, trumpeter Ron Miles and his own clarinet and contra-alto clarinet into the studio, Young sat in the control room creating new works based purely on the sounds in his headphones. The poet had no idea as to which of his writings were being “played” by the trio, thus had freest reign, another improviser in the band (he’s credited with “typewriter”). One part Dada, two parts Cage, perhaps. The poetry is visible within this beautifully packaged boxed set on twelve cards with the initial “Entry” poem on the front and Young’s final “Exit” poem on back. Also included is a booklet photos and first-person liner notes.
The outcome is fascinating, with the instrumental interpretations of the poems subjected to the impressions of the poet. Like a game of telephone, in most cases the final work is vastly different than the original source poem. On “Ant-Head Sutures”, Young’s poem opens with “Once I got into trouble/I got my aura photographed/green grapefruit with a purple”, built on a form with seven stanzas. It’s interpreted by Goldberg as a medium tempo groove following the poem’s natural phrasing, with a tonal, yearning trumpet solo and biting guitar breaks, before breaking into a close 2-part canon by the winds with alien terrain guitar effects. The resultant poem, however, carries the album title most justifiably. It reads, in part:
“In the grand scheme of things
there probably isn’t…
Wear your best whirlwind
and meet me at the melody”.
Another standout, “A Rhythmia”, a classic experimentalist poem (“A mallet stops a horserace/there is a dwarf in my face/I rewind emptiness”) is heard as relentlessly musical, deliciously listenable music. Note Miles’ trumpet melody recalling Herb Alpert, Goldberg’s hip contra-alto clarinet line and Cline serving as an entire rhythm section. Beautiful stuff, this. Young’s exit poem here, “Ornithology”, an airborne migration from Charlie Parker, saddles the rhythm, riding blindfolded to the end:
“See that smoke? It’s a person
See that funny stick thing?
That’d be me lucky to be where ever here is…”.
Ben Goldberg: clarinet, contra-alto clarinet/Nels Cline: electric guitar/Ron Miles: trumpet/Dean Young: typewriter
1. Demonic Possession is 9/10 of the Law
3. Phantom Pains
4. A Rhythmia
5. Corpse Pose
6. Because She Missed a Test
8. Sub Club Punch Card
9. Ant-Head Sutures
10. Someone Has to Be…
11. Surprised Again By the Rain
12. An Ordinary Day Somewhere