(126) Thomas Greenland, All About Jazz -- May 11, 2006

Steve Lacy may no longer be here, but he's "hear" these days, a musical spirit living on in many facets and forms. Clarinetist Ben Goldberg's quintet has recorded a loving tribute to Lacy in The Door, The Hat, The Chair, The Fact, a collection of poignant vignettes, interpretations and revitalizations. />

Goldberg, known for his progressive take on klezmer and for various projects that mix Northern Californian flavoring with a downtown NYC avant-jazz sensibility, gathered vocalist/violinist Carla Kihlstedt (from the Tin Hat trio & quartet), tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Ches Smith -- all associated with the eclectic Bay Area music scene -- for a satisfying set of thoughtful, deeply felt music./>

Some songs are tenor/clarinet/violin chorales with close-voiced chordal clusters moving in parallel motion. Others feature responsorial textures, where two voices complement the lead. Yet other compositions are spontaneously contrapuntal, for example the pointillistic heterophony of "Blinks," and the improvised melodic accompaniment on "Dog's Life."/>

The Lacy influence is subtle but palpable -- more a springboard for the band’s originality than an overt homage. It's present in the quirky melodicism of "I Before E Before I"; the haunting beauty of "Learned From Susan Stewart," with the clarinet and violin in dialogue; and the spacious, chamber jazz effect created in part by the lack of chording accompaniment but more so by the understated, open-ended playing of the "rhythm section." Goldberg's tone is robust and woody, dramatic without histrionics. His solos are intelligently constructed, dipping down to the clarinet's beefy bottom end to create melodic step progressions. />

Tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth's style ranges from the hard bop swing of "Song & Dance" to the mellow cool of "Dog's Life" and the meandering ruminations of the final track. Violinist Kihlstedt renders beautiful melodies, also creating effective extemporaneous counterpoint. Bassist Hoff shines on his intro to "Long Last Moment"; on his accompaniment to "I Before E Before I" and the final track; and on his solo for "Learned From Susan Stewart." Drummer Smith is a subtle colorist: "MF" ebbs and flows in a pyramidal form; "Facts" features feathery brushwork, and "Dog's Life" is lightly "finger-painted." />

The passing of Steve Lacy was a sad event in the annuals of jazz but, just as the spirit of Thelonious Monk touched and inspired reinterpretation in Lacy's music, so the spirit of Lacy has touched Goldberg, finding new life and expression through the music and natural respiration of this fine clarinetist./>/>

Thomas Greenland
All About Jazz
May 11, 2006