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The clarinet stories of jazz player Ben Goldberg

March 15, 2011 |  5:34 pm

The clarinet hasn’t been a jazz mainstay since the swing era, but that hasn’t stopped Ben Goldberg from turning the neglected instrument into a vehicle for intrepid exploration.

Over the last 25 years, he’s quietly become a singular force in improvised music, and he’s just starting to hit his stride. Aside from his ongoing work with the celebrated new music combo Tin Hat, which is recording an album of songs in May based on e.e. cummings poems, and the groove-laden quartet Go Home that he brings to McCabe’s on Saturday, Goldberg is in the midst of a brilliantly productive period.

There’s a ravishing collaboration with tenor sax star and fellow Berkeley resident Joshua Redman that he’s getting set to release on his label BAG Productions. A quintet session with Tin Hat violinist Carla Kihlstedt and tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth was slated for release on Cryptogramophone, but belt-tightening at the label has forced Goldberg to shop for a new outlet. And a new duo project with pianist/composer Myra Melford (another Berkeleyite) showcases Goldberg’s seemingly infinite supply of lithe melodic lines.

The clarinetist credits the late Steve Lacy, who reintroduced the forgotten soprano sax to jazz in the 1950s, with pointing the way toward attaining an original voice during a lesson in Paris in the mid-1980s.

“There are some people who have such a clear vision, when you learn something from them it’s like a revelation,” Goldberg says. “I didn’t really have an idea of how you could find or build or make or discover your own thing. He was the one who revealed it to me. In some way it’s the most obvious thing, you have to get in touch with the most basic components, the most basic building blocks, as opposed spending all your time trying to sound like Charlie Parker. Once you do that, everything fixes itself.”

Hear Goldberg in the video and click here to read more about the clarinetist and Go Home.

-- Andrew Gilbert