Apr 8, 2015
"The Orphic Machine is the poem: a severed head with face turned away that sings." -- Allen Grossman
Beauty can often be found in unexpected places. On his new album, Orphic Machine, clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg creates some of his most beautiful, lyrical – and oddly accessible - music to date. Interestingly, though the lyrics are by poet Allen Grossman, they come not from his poems, but from a book on “speculative poetics.” Goldberg was a student of the poet/professor, where he was initially exposed to Grossman’s Summa Lyrica, a collection of blunt, interwoven statements illuminating the place of poetry in human thought. Rediscovering the book a few years ago, Goldberg used the texts as a foundation to wrap his beautiful melodies and compelling grooves.
While the CD sounds different from much of his past work, a careful listener might see the evolution that has characterized Goldberg’s courageously experimental music from the beginning. That reaches back as far as the revered New Klezmer Trio, the first group to blur the boundaries between traditional klezmer music and the jazz avant-garde. Goldberg later drew on the music of his mentor Steve Lacy for his quintet album the door, the hat, the chair, the fact, which embodied the teacher-student continuum by suggesting Lacy’s music while never losing sight of Goldberg’s own identity. In addition to Lacy, Goldberg also studied with Joe Lovano and Rosario Mazzeo.
He leads or is central to, some of the most important avant-jazz bands in the business today, including his own Tin Hat(with Carla Kihlstedt, Rob Reich, and Mark Orton); Myra Medford’s Be Bread; the quartet Go Home, featuring trumpeter Ron Miles, drummer Scott Amendola, and seven-string guitar master Charlie Hunter; and in an ongoing duo format; in Nels Cline’s Andrew Hill tribute project New Monastery. His new ensemble, Invisible Guy, which features Goldberg alongside two Bay Area collaborators Michael Coleman and Hamir Atwal just completed a short tour.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Orphic Machine are the contributions of the many musicians Ben brought together, especially the ethereal vocals of Carla Kihlstedt, who adds her violin. Wilco guitarist Nels Cline lends some crackling guitar solos, and as always, there is sparkling interplay from long-time collaborators Ron Miles; tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth and drummer Ches Smith; pianist Myra Melford; bassist Greg Cohen,; and vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, the last of whom Goldberg’s has worked with since the New Klezmer Trio days.
Podcast 479 is my conversation with Ben Goldberg, as we talk about the making of Orphic Machine and his musical development over a prolific career. Musical selections from the new CD include the “What Was That”, “Line of Less Than Ten” and “Immortality”; plus I added a prior Goldberg track called “Evolution,” from Ben’s one-off with Joshua Redman, Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues.