Too bad that the clarinet was the instrument guys were embarrassed to be stuck with in band. None of those kids ever got to hear what musicians like Steve Lacy (Yes, I know, soprano sax. Close enough), Don Byron or Ben Goldberg could do with it.
Goldberg, a member of the group Tin Hat (formerly the Tin Hat Trio, they of off-kilter chamberisms and surprising Tom Waits guest vocals), brings Tin Hat violinist Carla Kihlstedt together with Rob Sudduth (tenor sax), Devin Hoff (bass)and Ches Smith (drums) for an ear-opening tribute to the late Mr. Lacy.
Somewhat like the oboe (which is perhaps a notch or two below the clarinet on the kid coolness scale), the clarinet's tone seems perfectly suited for playing the opposite emotions of melancholy and whimsy. There's just something about that 'round' sound. That's why it seems perfectly natural for the door, the hat, the chair, the fact to open with the brooding dirge of "Petals" only to follow it with the angular and zippy "Song and Dance." The latter builds up some nice momentum with propulsive solos, first by Rob Sudduth, then leader Goldberg. When Carla Kihlstedt take her violin out for a ride, the sax and clarinet fill in the gap by adding ascending and descending chromatic runs. A nice contrast of the traditional sound (violin) against the modern forms below it.
Everybody solos together as introduction to Ches Smith's thunderous drums. You know how there's that joke about jazz being dead? Ha! Only if you've stopped caring.
Steve Lacy's music was known for its wild eclecticism. From pure solo work to large ensembles to duos and trios, Lacy displayed endless ideas and absolutely no fear in presenting them. Ben Goldberg certainly carries on that spirit here. There's the group improv of "F13", the appropriately named (and Lacy-penned) "Blinks", which sounds like a tune being simultaneously constructed and destructed, and the lilting "MF", with the winding solo sax introduction.
My two favorite tracks from the door, the hat, the chair, the fact are "Facts" and "Dog's Life." The former begins with unison violin and vocal lines from Kihlstedt. That unsettling motif is brought forward by the entire band as Kihlstedt sings throughout. The latter, a mini-suite of sorts, seems to present Steve Lacy's career in microcosm. A forlorn violin starts off, joined shortly by the clarinet and then bass. After this introduction, the sax and rhythm section are left alone for a long, bluesy trio workout taking up the middle of the composition. Toward the end, the clarinet and violin weave their way back in to restate the theme as a trio. Great ideas ... pulled apart, drawn back together.
Branford Marsalis joked about switching to the saxophone because it was a sexier instrument than what he had been playing. Maybe it was true ... but the girls had never heard this music.