There are few instruments in jazz that seem so tied to a single period like the clarinet. The instrument of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and New Orleans hot jazz, the horn is a relative outlier these days with practitioners such as Anat Cohen, Ken Peplowski and the Bay Area’s terrific Ben Goldberg.
Goldberg has popped up in a variety of ensembles over the years, including co-leading the chamber-jazz group Tin Hat and Nels Cline’s tribute to Andrew Hill, “New Monastery.” Released this week on his own label, Goldberg’s two new albums could be called a sort of “Use Your Illusion” for jazz, but with a far clearer distinction between the recordings.
“Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues” might be the most tradition-aligned recording of the two, with Goldberg joining saxophonist Joshua Redman and trumpeter Ron Miles on exquisitely tangled melodic runs. “Evolution” and the radiant “Doom” stay tethered to the fizzy swing of drummer Ches Smith and bassist Devin Hoff, while “Study of the Blues” is a percussionless, ebb-and-flow ballet between Redman and Goldberg. Drummer Scott Amendola’s unmistakable groove makes “The Because Of” another highlight, and “Who Died and Where I Moved To” moves with the percolating drive of vintage soul-jazz.
With Goldberg picking up a more rhythm-focused role, “Unfold Ordinary Mind” feels somewhat more unorthodox, but its highs are equally rewarding. Cline’s ever-restless guitar shifts into the spotlight occasionally, such as on the shape-shifting “Parallelogram” and “Stemwinder,” which occasionally resembles a more unhinged take on Eddie Hazel. But taken with its companion piece, the album offers a portrait of a uniquely restless artist that two CDs still can’t entirely capture.