Conceived as a tribute to the late Steve Lacy, one of Goldberg's former teachers, The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact not only invokes the master but also offers a window into Goldberg's own musical world. Now an official member of Tin Hat (formerly the Tin Hat Trio), Goldberg invites fellow Tin Hat violinist Carla Kilhstedt and Bay Area tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth to join the front-line of a newly formed quintet. Dutifully supported by bassist Devin Hoff (Nels Cline Singers) and drummer Ches Smith (Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant), Goldberg’s ensemble demonstrates an uncanny ability to summon a mesmerizing cinematic vibe.
Goldberg's tribute plays to subtler aspects of the tradition and comes up with a down-tempo sound that blends back-alley noir with chamber music classicism. The leisurely, cool vamp of "Long Last Moment" and "Cortege" set the scene for the majority of the album, allowing plenty of solo room for the front-line as well as the rhythm section. Goldberg never grandstands, opting instead for sultry, glacially paced grooves that allow the rhythm section to interact with not one, but often two or three soloists at a time. There are short strings of solos and individual features for all, but often the group collectively improvises, within parameters, on the established themes.
The brief, madrigal opener, "Petals" and the stately harmonies of "Facts" demonstrate Goldberg’s talent for writing chamber music. "F13" even goes so far as to exclude the rhythm section entirely for a canon-like structure of interweaving, contrapuntal lines from clarinet, tenor sax, and violin. But it's not all quiet and serene, as Goldberg’s dark and austere melodies get a bit of a thrashing early on with the jaunty, swinging "Song and Dance", which sets up a sequence of short but vivacious solos, introducing the band one by one. Former Huey Lewis and the News saxophonist Rob Sudduth finally gets a chance to prove his mettle as a jazz soloist with a surprisingly torrid linear run.
Similarly, Lacy's "Blinks" features a subdued collective improvisation that starts tentative and polite, but quickly escalates to frenzied abandon, culminating in a maelstrom of activity. Lacy's own fascination with Afro-Cuban rhythms is represented on "I Before E Before I". Introduced leisurely with delicate pizzicato violin and gentle bass, the piece picks up with a Caribbean flavored vamp that features Goldberg in a hazy mood, contributing a languorously melodic solo. Never one to tow the line, Goldberg inverts the traditional roles of accompanist and soloist on "MF". Unified by a bright, plucky bass ostinato and the leader's subtle melodic variations on clarinet, the piece acts as a mini-drum concerto of sorts for Ches Smith's rousing, free-form drum kit ruminations.
A rich combination of chamber jazz and gentle free-wheeling improvisation, combined with Goldberg’s undeniably hip melodic sensibility, The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact has plenty going for it. A heartfelt ode to his former mentor, it may be one of Goldberg's finest moments.