Ben Goldberg School teaches innovative jazz on “Vol. 1: The Humanities”

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Ben Goldberg School infuses classic and original songs with innovative arrangements of the clarinet. The result is a pure mix of classic jazz with experimental tendencies.

An introduction to Ben Goldberg School

Denver-born clarinetist Ben Goldberg has been playing the clarinet since his formative years. He earned bachelor and master degrees in music. Throughout his career, Goldberg has been awarded grants and awards for his projects and initiatives. Goldberg’s work in the 21st century has involved thematic projects that take his work to new levels.

According to his website, for the Ben Goldberg School, Goldberg assembled a talented group of musicians in the San Francisco Bay to play his compositions. Goldberg’s previous album, “Orphic Machine,” is considered a masterpiece of sorts. The lyrics of that recording are based on avant-garde poetry, and arranged in a song cycle.

Since 1992, the clarinetist, saxophonist and composer has frequently been involved in a number of projects. Goldberg has performed with a variety of ensembles, each creating different themes and developing unique approaches to the work.

Ben Goldberg School’s “Nine Pound Hammer”

The song begins with a gentle chorus of woodwind and brass. Then, the clarinet and horns begin to play against each other. A soft clattering of drums seems to play a rhythm without consideration of the rest of the instrumentation. The result is a pleasantly off-kilter, experimental feel.

While Goldberg’s work here is considered avant-garde jazz, it has a smooth jazz feel, too, for the most part. Even with the cacophony that builds when the song’s elements bristle against each other, there is a reassurance, somewhere, that everything will come back together. This is satisfying because audience’s expectations are met, yet, the song is not fully predictable.

“Time and Space” according to the Ben Goldberg School

At a more than 17 and a half minutes long, this surrealistically themed song takes up more than a quarter of the recording’s 53 minutes. The horn lines provide a swing that nearly swaggers. The drums are put to good use and the solo at the almost seven- minute mark, is a logical place for the song to have a musical breakdown. The drum solo is a muscular beast, and when it wears itself out, the woodwind and horns come back, light and jaunty.

It can be difficult for a performer in almost any musical genre to justify nearly 18 minutes for one song. Goldberg and his ensemble manage to earn listeners’ time with this one.

The work of the Ben Goldberg School is endowed with a certain poetry (even without lyrics). The ensemble allows its different elements to play in harmony in ways that build tension and audience excitement. “Vol.1: The Humanities” has a great deal to teach about the possibilities of jazz.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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