Ben Goldberg packs a lot of music in his clarinet case—including jazz, Ashkenazi roots music and chamber music. His latest combo features musicians with unfettered imaginations willing to roam the entire musical landscape: Ron Miles (cornet, G trumpet), Charlie Hunter (seven-string guitar) and Scott Amendola (drums). Together, they create something approaching a jazzy, groove-based klezmer blues—or maybe it’s just Southern rock all growed up and moved to the big city. The 10 Goldberg compositions (with help from brother Ethan on one) move smoothly from lyrical composed passages to disciplined but adventurous improvisations. Hunter is clearly the oddest and most indispensable part of the combo, supplying a fierce rawness in the upper registers and coherent bass lines simultaneously. The four live tracks add special piquancy to this tasty brew.
The tones coming off the strings of Rufus Reid’s 19th-century bass seem to bloom in your ears—resonant, defined and expressive. His big round sound, whether high up or down low on the neck, delivers a physical pleasure freighted with information. On Out Front, Reid and his sympathetic colleagues (pianist Steve Allee and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca) interpret six originals and three covers—delicate ballads, Brazilian-inflected grooves and blues burners among them—with a lush harmonic and rhythmic quality. The group swings even on slow tempi, but it’s not afraid to sacrifice forward movement for atmospheric drama. “Caress the Thought,” a luscious 12-minute suite, best showcases Reid’s compositional talents and the breadth of his bass technique.
Drawing on Eastern European folk music, the classical tradition, jazz, country and you-name-it, Carla Kihlstedt (violin, trumpet violin), Mark Orton (guitar, dobro), Ben Goldberg (clarinet, contra alto clarinet) and Ara Anderson (trumpet, pump organ, piano, glockenspiel, percussion) make highly textured music that dares filmmakers to create images to accompany the sound. Recorded in concert in Mallorca (2005) and Berkeley (2008), Foreign Legion includes many tunes familiar to Tin Hat fans, as well as the indescribable sensations induced by fearless, sometimes funny and often profound improvisations. From the unabashed romanticism of “Ana Ivanovic,” which mixes the antique with the contemporary, to the dense title track, which seems composed for a dream, to the psilocybin-laced “The Last Cowboy,” Foreign Legion continually surprises and delights.